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Flu outbreak hits surgeries

Non-critical operations cancelled

Posted: 01/19/2013 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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Winnipeg hospitals had to cancel dozens of surgeries this week because the influenza outbreak forced officials to place non-surgery patients on surgical wards.

As of Friday, 55 procedures -- all of them non-urgent -- had to be put off. The good news, though, is the current flu wave may have already peaked.

Dr. Brock Wright, chief medical officer for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, said Friday the number of cancelled surgeries would have been even higher if hospital officials had not taken extraordinary measures.

They deployed 57 temporary beds -- about three dozen more than normal. And where possible, patients came in for day surgery, where they might normally have been kept overnight.

Surgeries have been cancelled as 77 surgical recovery beds are currently occupied by non-surgery patients.

"It (the influenza outbreak) continues to cause increasing pressure on the hospital system," Wright said.

But there were signs late this week those pressures were starting to ease.

On Thursday, Winnipeg hospital emergency rooms (excluding the one at Children's Hospital at Health Sciences Centre) received 566 visitors. That's in line with ER traffic during October and November -- and far lower than the 800 to nearly 1,000 daily visits recorded in recent weeks.

Dr. Tim Hilderman, medical lead for communicable disease control with Manitoba Health, said the number of lab-confirmed flu cases fell this week in the city and across the province. That suggests the current wave of the flu may be slightly past its peak.

But he said it doesn't mean the flu season is over -- further waves are possible -- or that the current one has lost its punch. "If it has peaked, we would still expect in this wave several more weeks of activity, but at a lower level," Hilderman said Friday.

Last week, Winnipeg's two main hospitals restricted visitors in children's units for the first time since the H1N1 outbreak in 2009. Those restrictions remain in effect, and there's no indication yet when they will be lifted.

Only parents may visit patients in all wards of Children's Hospital.

The same rule is in effect at St. Boniface General Hospital's neonatal intensive care unit.

The measures are being taken to reduce the risk of more infants being exposed to respiratory infections.

Wright said the temporary beds deployed during the flu outbreak are located in spaces that had been out of service. In some cases, private rooms were converted to semi-private. Nobody was plunked in a hallway, he said.

Wright said the hospital system would do its best to play catch-up on the missed surgeries.

"We'll add the surgical capacity (through increased shifts) because we don't want patients to be delayed any more than they have to be," he said.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 19, 2013 A3

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