Hospitals Challenged In Current Flu Season, But Surge May Have Peaked
Washington is one of the hardest hit states in the country for influenza this winter season, according to numbers from the Washington Department of Health.
About 95 percent of ICU beds were occupied as of Dec. 10, a sharp rise from a normal flu season when about half of all ICU beds are available.
Across the state, 40 people have died from influenza-like illnesses in the current flu season: 37 adults and three children.
Almost 11 percent of hospital visits to emergency departments across the state are for influenza-like illnesses, which is actually down from numbers released by the Department of Health in weeks past.
Dr. James Wallace with Chelan Douglas Health District (CDHD) says there's been a slight decrease in influenza-like illness in the last couple of weeks.
H3N2 is the most common influenza strain reported in Washington of late, which is covered by the current flu vaccine. There are also more flu cases than RSV cases across the state, with RSV having peaked about a month ago.
Wallace says CDHD is working with hospitals in the region experiencing patient surges, with rural hospitals picking up the slack to house patients that are sicker than they normally care for.
He says they're also working with outpatient clinics to ease the rush of patients.
"Outpatient facilities I've worked with, and had discussions around maintaining access and trying to keep the less severely ill patients out of emergency rooms, so our hospitals and emergency rooms can do a better job," said Wallace at the most recent Chelan Douglas Health Board meeting.
Health Board member and Chelan County Commissioner Tiffany Gering mentioned during the meeting that there's also a problem with patients getting in to see their doctors, which is pushing people into walk-in clinics that can have hours-long wait times.
Wallace said doctors often get backed up with demand during influenza season.
"There are so many patients that are seeking appointments that often times schedules get filled up several weeks in advance," Wallace said. "Sometimes that pushes their regular routine health visits for individuals that don't have an acute health illness out even further."
Wallace also said staffing shortages with doctors and nurses is currently contributing to appointment delays, as is a backlog of routine visits that were delayed by the pandemic.
He said hospitals and clinics in the region need to attract more doctors and support staff to make healthcare more easily accessible.