Chatham-Kent Health Alliance preparing for flu season, will open extra beds

Chatham-Kent Health Alliance will be able to open five extra beds to address any surges in visits during flu season.

Erin Dejaegher, occupational health nurse with Chatham-Kent Health Alliance, is shown with a cart she uses to bring the flu shot to staff in all departments at the hospital's Chatham Campus Dec. 2, 2019. The staff and physician flu vaccination rate is currently at about 50 per cent. (Tom Morrison/Postmedia Network)

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The Chatham-Kent Health Alliance will be able to open five extra beds to address any surges in visits during flu season.

The hospital received $302,500 from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, the same amount the organization received last year.

“That really gives that necessary release valve, I would say, because we do anticipate higher volumes of people presenting to the emergency department and potentially requiring admission in this time period,” said Lori Marshall, hospital president and CEO.

The funding keeps the beds open between November and March 31. Marshall said it gives the hospital time to hire the staff for those beds, get the staff oriented and make sure the beds are available.

“If they aren’t available, then what we’re able to do is reallocate staff or send them to different areas to support if we don’t actually need the beds,” she said. “But for the most part, we keep those beds open most of the time.”

The beds are kept in storage throughout the rest of the year and then brought into the hospital’s medical unit.

Last flu season, the hospital reached 106 per cent bed occupancy, so these surge beds were put to use.

Marshall said the hospital also takes preventative measures in relation to influenza. She encouraged everyone to get their flu shot and focus on hand hygiene during the winter.

“If you’re not feeling well yourself, now is not the best time to come and visit friends and family who may be in hospital,” she said.

As well, about 50 per cent of staff and physicians at the hospital have received flu shots so far. During last season, the rate was 61 per cent by February.

“We try to target 100 per cent, but we need to realize that some people are allergic to some of the components that are in the vaccine itself,” said Marshall. “I would say that if everybody understands that if they choose not to be vaccinated and if we are in an outbreak, then there are some additional precautions or different precautions that they need to take.”

The hospital has a cart that travels throughout different departments to offer the flu shot to staff members who can’t leave their units.

Marshall said when she went on the travelling clinics, most people she saw either already had their shot or were open to it.

“I think that it’s something that most health professionals would say they have a responsibility and understand that it’s about not only protecting yourself,” she said. “It’s about protecting your friends and family, and it’s about protecting those who are most vulnerable in our population, which for us includes our patients in the hospital.”