Hospitals say spike in flu cases across GTA leading to ‘dangerous’ overcrowding

For many, winter means flu season and this year medical experts say the virus is taking a toll on the Greater Toronto Area health-care system.

“Influenza A is a little bit higher than it should be, but influenza B is off the charts higher,” ER doctor Brett Belchetz told Global News, adding the increase is due in part to a low efficacy rate of the flu shot.

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A number of doctors, nurses and administrators at hospitals across the GTA confirmed to Global News there has been a surge of patients on top of a system that is already operating at or over 100 per cent capacity.

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Global News learned at some hospitals the term “pre-pandemic” has even been used.

Between the first and second weeks of 2018 alone, the number of confirmed flu cases in the province has risen to 1,194 from 861, according to Public Health Ontario’s flu report.

Belchetz said it’s a spike the city’s emergency rooms can’t bear.

“We are looking at hospitals that are struggling to keep up and now you add in all of those extra patients with the flu… we are in a dangerous situation here,” he said.

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Jody Kernichan said on Twitter he had been to the hospital “dozens of times” and that the “wait is long.”

“Seems like everyone else has the flu as well,” he said.

A photo taken from inside a local emergency room shows overcrowding.

Global News

Global News visited multiple emergency rooms to get a better understanding of the effects the flu is having on the city’s hospitals. In video from one emergency room, not only was every single room full but patients lined the hallways and were being treated in both gurneys and in chairs. Similar conditions were observed in other hospitals.

“You see patients being treated in the hallway with regularity and often that is just a choice we have to make — provide no care or provide hallway care,” Belchetz said.

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A nurse, who also asked to remain anonymous, told Global News “the volume of patients is insane. We are so overcapacity.”

Staff told Global News they are working overtime as hospitals have reported capacity as high as 120 per cent in some instances. Belchetz said a hospital should operate closer to 75 per cent capacity.

In October 2017, the province stepped in to try and deal with the capacity issues and put a $100,000,000 into adding 1,200 new hospital beds.

Dr. Paul Hannam, chief of emergency medicine at Michael Garron Hospital, said it received 14 of those beds, adding that while it helps, “preparation is key.”

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“Almost every hospital has a problem with capacity,” he said.

“We began planning for the flu in February of last year in order to prepare for just this kind of scenario.”

A scenario that many medical experts told Global News won’t change without more money, beds and staff.

“It doesn’t take a mathematical genius or an expert in health care to understand that having more people in the province, especially people that are older, that are sicker, with fewer hospital beds, is a recipe for hospitals to operate overcapacity,” Belchetz said.

“And not just overcapacity — dangerously overcapacity.”

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