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Christy Clark blames Abbotsford Hospital problems on ‘bad flu season’

Premier Christy Clark said overcrowding in Fraser Health hospitals is due to a bad flu season this year.
Premier Christy Clark said overcrowding in Fraser Health hospitals is due to a bad flu season this year. Global News

Premier Christy Clark is blaming the issue of overcrowded emergency rooms, like the one seen at Abbotsford Regional Hospital, on a bad flu season.

Earlier this week, the B.C. Nurses’ Union described the emergency room at Abbotsford Hospital as a “war zone” or something out of a scene from M*A*S*H.

“The nurses are consistently stretched, they are stressed, they are working 16-hour shifts, they are working without breaks, they’re tripping over people,” Gayle Duteil, president of the union, said.

“The ambulance bay was full of patients. I saw a number of psychiatric patients being held in chairs designed for seniors. It was very, very shocking and I could see how difficult this was for the nurses who were there.”

READ MORE: ‘Very shocking’: Abbotsford Hospital ER compared to a scene from M*A*S*H

Clark was asked about the overcrowding issue within the Fraser Health Authority during a news conference in Merritt Friday. While she expressed concern for the issue, she blamed it on a particularly bad flu season.

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“We hear about it almost every year that we have a bad flu, so that’s why we’ve been building hospitals and health care… As my father used to say, ‘It’s tough to build a church big enough for Easter.’ And when we have a very, very difficult flu season as we’ve had this year, it really does put stress on the system,” she said. “Yes, we’re concerned about it, and the answer to it is to continue to build.”

Duteil responded to Clark’s comments on Twitter, saying the number of people waiting in the ER in March was similar to the number recorded in August, when there was no flu season.

Earlier this year, B.C. health officials said the flu season was verging on an epidemic. Numbers seen as of January were comparable to 2014 when the H3N2 flu strain overwhelmed care facilities, according to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC).

READ MORE: Flu season this year showing signs of an epidemic: B.C. health officials

BCCDC says the number of patients with flu-like symptoms continues to be above the 10-year historical average this season, but the rate of influenza has declined since a peak in mid-January.

But the nurses’ union says it’s a major staff shortage at Abbotsford Hospital that is causing problems for both nurses and patients.

It says there should be 88 nurses in the ER but there are currently only 56 on staff, with 32 vacant positions.

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With files from Amy Judd