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BC Nurses' Union calls for action as flu season has hospitals overcapacity

Peak flu season has yet to arrive and already the halls of the Emergency Departments in the Interior and Fraser Health Authority are lined with patients in beds - waiting to be seen.

Acting president of the BC Nurses' Union (BCNU), Christine Sorensen is calling for action, stating that nurses are overworked and patients are waiting too long - eight hours in some cases.

On Jan. 10, both the Kelowna General Hospital (KGH) and Vernon Jubilee Hospital (VJH) were already at 121% capacity by morning.

"I'm frustrated," she said. "I think it's time that the health authorities take a really hard look at this ongoing problem and I think the government needs to really take a look."

Hospitals in Kelowna and Vernon were 52 beds overcapacity and patients were being placed in hallways and any other rooms that were available.

"BCNU has also been told that a patient was placed in a shower room due to the congestion," said Sorensen, referring to a patient within the Fraser Health Authority.

But according to Tasleem Juma, a spokesperson for the Fraser Health Authority, the numbers aren't any higher than usual at this time of year.

"Every year across the country, especially at this time of year, hospitals will see an increase in congestion," said Juma. "This is why last week we put out a public service announcement asking the public to do their part and to try and lessen the pressure on the hospitals during the season."

Haley Allen, communications consultant for Interior Health agreed that the numbers weren't higher than usual for this time of year.

"While, we are seeing an increased number of patients at Royal Inland Hospital and Kelowna General Hospital, this is not unusual for this time of year," she stated. "We generally see increased patient volumes throughout our hospitals during the winter period, and given this expected increase, have prepared accordingly."

But this is a major concern for Sorensen - the fact that it happens every year and little action is taken to address the situation.

"Right, this is an annual event. This is something that happens with great predictability and we are always surprised by the fact that the health authority - both IH and Fraser Health in particular - continue to not be able to plan for this event and provide appropriate staffing, appropriate environments for people to be cared for," said Sorensen.

<who> Photo Credit: Google Maps </who> Kelowna General Hospital's ER department.

While she acknowledges that some improvements have been made, she's concerned for the safety of both patients and nurses in an overcapacity environment.

"So yes, once again we're wondering why health authorities are caught off guard and that there's high admission rates in these facilities."

Juma with the Fraser Health Authority said they do work to ensure there is enough staff to cover the shifts.

"But we do plan for it and we do prepare for it," she said.

When asked about how many patients have been seen for influenza so far this year, she said it was difficult to determine.

<who> Photo Credit: Google Maps </who> Vernon Jubilee Hospital.

Allen stated that Interior Health has implemented changes, including increased staffing, more beds where possible, and additional home support hours.

"We recognize that this can result in some longer wait times for people. We ask for the public’s patience as our staff and physicians work hard to provide quality care to all patients," said Allen.

If patients are unsure whether or not to see a health care provider, they are encouraged to call HealthLink BC at 8-1-1.

But Sorensen says the BC Government is failing to give this complex issue the attention it deserves.

"If you had a significant event in that community, you don't have the capacity in your hospital to manage a crisis."

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