Illnesses overloading hospitals

Hospitals in Calgary and Edmonton are struggling to cope with a double whammy of both flu and norovirus cases that has led to patients being put in hallways and some surgery postponements.

Hospitals in Calgary and Edmonton are struggling to cope with a double whammy of both flu and norovirus cases that has led to patients being put in hallways and some surgery postponements.

An Alberta Health Services spokesman said the occupancy rate in hospitals in Calgary and Edmonton is well over 100 per cent on the units which account for most patients.

“What we do is maximize our bed space as best we can and that does include over-capacity spaces in hallways when required so that patients can get the care that they need,” said Dr. Francois Belanger, senior vice-president and medical director for Calgary.

Belanger said outbreaks in continuing care facilities and on other wards has limited the ability to move patients around.

There were nine surgeries postponed in Calgary on Tuesday. Two of 246 surgeries scheduled for Wednesday were put off.

“It’s less than one per cent so it’s really a minor fraction of our business,” Belanger said. “The postponements occur only on elective surgeries. All other urgent surgeries go forward.”

Alberta Health Services is attempting to free up beds by providing more home care so that patients can be discharged quicker. It is also sending stable out-of-province patients back home and opening temporary beds where possible.

“We are doing all we can to ensure Albertans continue to have access to the health care they need,” said Belanger.

Health officials are urging Albertans not to tax the already crowded emergency rooms by coming in with something that could be treated at home with bed rest.

“Emergency departments will never turn away those who need treatment,” said Dr. William Dickout, medical director for Edmonton.

“We are looking to Albertans to educate themselves on the options available for their care to ensure they get the care they need quickly, and also to help reduce the pressures on our ERs during this season.”

Although it isn’t unusual for the health-care system to be under pressure during the normal flu season, this year is a bit unusual, said Belanger.

“We’re seeing influenza earlier in the year than we did last year,” he said. “We’re not only seeing only influenza-like illness. We’re seeing at the same time an outbreak of gastroenteritis — the norovirus.”

With many regions across the country in the throes of an active flu season, the federal government is drawing on the national stockpile of the flu drug Tamiflu to relieve a shortage in the country.

Higher-than-expected demand for the drug left the company to believe it might not be able to fill its orders, so the Public Health Agency agreed to release some of its Tamiflu stock.

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