An influx of patients exhibiting flu-like symptoms and respiratory viruses is filling local emergency departments with congested heads and is putting pressure on emergency systems and resulting in increased ER wait times.
Less than 10 per cent of recent ER visitors with influenza symptoms have been admitted to hospital for treatment, Dr. Wassim Saad, Windsor Regional Hospital’s chief of staff, estimates. The rest are sent home to recover after spending hours expecting emergency treatment they might not need.
“I think we’re seeing this bit of a surge because of the holidays and people getting together in close environments,” Saad said Tuesday.
“This might not even be the peak,” he told the Star. “We could be entering the peak coming up soon as the weather gets colder.”
Windsor resident Steve Filipovic told the Star he spent nearly eight hours in the emergency room at Windsor Regional Hospital’s Ouellette campus with this 85-year-old mother Monday after she cut her head.
“We had to wait so long, it was unbelievable,” Filipovic said. “I hoped to God nothing bad would happen to her while we waited.”
He said his mother, Ankica Vidal, had a gash in her head about two inches long from a fall in the bathroom that morning. She eventually received eleven stitches, an X-ray, and a CT scan, and was kept overnight for observation. But Filipovic said he was “fuming” while he watched other patients come and go.
The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit’s flu bulletin on Tuesday reported 400 emergency department visits due to respiratory syndromes or flu-like illness in the final week of 2019, a jump from the 239 a week prior.
In the first week of 2020, 380 people visited the region’s emergency departments for the same reasons.
Saad encouraged people experiencing general respiratory symptoms — shortness of breath, cough, runny nose and more — to call the 24-hour Telehealth Ontario hotline (1-866-797-0000) and ask a registered nurse whether or not symptoms warrant a trip to the ER.
“If you’re not able to eat or drink, or if you develop a fever or your symptoms have been going on for more than a week, those would be reasons to seek medical attention,” Saad said.
That medical attention could also be a walk-in clinic or a family doctor, he said.
“I would say it’s an average flu season, and we like to keep it that way,” said local medical officer of health Dr. Wajid Ahmed. “It all depends on the number of people who are vaccinated in the community and whether the vaccine is a good match or not.”
So far, Ahmed said, it looks like this year’s vaccine “isn’t a bad match.” The health unit has distributed 149,660 doses of the influenza vaccine to the community, but the organization does not keep track of how many of those have been administered.
On Monday, Windsor Regional Hospital and Leamington’s Erie Shores Healthcare both implemented visitor restrictions as precautionary measures to keep the flu and respiratory illnesses from infecting staff and patients.
At Windsor Regional Hospital, anyone showing signs of illness are not allowed to visit the pediatrics or neonatal intensive care units. Visits are restricted to immediate family and household contacts, with two visitors permitted at a time. Only one parent is allowed to stay with a child patient overnight.
Erie Shores Healthcare is also restricting patients to two visitors at a time. No visitors under the age of 18 are allowed, and visitors may be asked to wear a mask and gown to help prevent the spread of illnesses.
To view emergency department wait times at either of Windsor Regional Hospital’s campuses, visit www.wrh.on.ca/EmergencyServices. For Erie Shores Healthcare wait times, visit www.erieshoreshealthcare.ca/waittimes.