Flu-like illnesses keep Winnipeg hospitals ‘extremely busy’

St. Boniface Hospital Winnipeg
Winnipeg hospitals are dealing with high volumes of patients with flu-like illnesses. File / Global Winnipeg

WINNIPEG – Hospitals and emergency departments in the city are dealing with unusual numbers of patients with flu-like illnesses, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority said Monday morning.

“We’ve experienced, over the last 48 to 72 hours, a significant increase in the number of people reporting to our emergency department,” said Lori Lamont, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority’s chief nursing officer. “On Saturday, we had over 900 people attend the emergency.”

On average, WRHA hospitals record between 700 and 750 emergency room visits a day, a health authority spokeswoman said in an email Monday. These are the highest numbers of emergency patients the health authority has dealt with at this time of year, Lamont said.

Winnipeg hospitals are also admitting more patients due to more serious illnesses. Usually 10 to 12 per cent of emergency room patients are admitted to hospital, but over the last few days, that has increased to more than 20 per cent.

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RELATED: This year’s flu shot may not be the right match, CDC tells doctors

The province was anticipating this year’s flu season to be a bad one.

“We’ve been suspecting for several weeks this might be a busy year, busier than we have had for a while,” said Dr.Michael Routledge.

He said this year’s main flu strain, H3N2, targets seniors more so than other versions of the virus.

The flu shot was also mismatched so the vaccine is not as effective as it usually is but Routledge stresses it does still work.

While patients with serious injuries and illnesses will continue to be seen quickly, those with minor or less severe injuries or illnesses should expect longer waits at emergency rooms, the health region warned.

The health authority is taking several steps to deal with the higher number of patients:

  • adding medical staff;
  • sending patients from outside Winnipeg back to their referring health regions as soon as safely possible;
  • temporarily transferring patients waiting for beds in specific personal care homes to the first available bed that matches the patient’s health needs;
  • increasing homecare resources to allow earlier discharges; and
  • increasing the hours at Winnipeg’s two QuickCare clinics.

Approximate wait times for emergency departments at Winnipeg hospitals are available on the WRHA website.

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The health authority also urges patients to seek care at other facilities when appropriate.

“For those people with less serious illnesses, we are encouraging them to think about other options,” Lamont said.

Patients with less urgent complaints can consider going to the following facilities instead of the emergency department:

For more information about health care options, go to the MyRightCare website.

To prevent contracting or spreading the flu, health officials advise you:

  • wash your hands frequently;
  • keep your hands away from your face;
  • cough and sneeze into your arm, not your hand;
  • if you get sick, stay home; and
  • get a flu shot.

— With files from Tamara Forlanski