Influenza hitting residential care facilities hard across Interior Health Authority

KELOWNA - Procedures for dealing with outbreaks of influenza in residential care homes within the Interior Health Authority have prevented some seniors from returning to their homes and others from finding one.

Medical health officer Dr. Silvina Mema confirmed there have been complaints from people who have left their residential care facility for a medical procedure at an acute care facility, only to be told they cannot yet return because an outbreak has occured when they were gone.

“If someone has surgery at Kelowna General Hospital, it’s not a good idea to send that person home if there is an outbreak,” Mema said. “It wouldn’t be safe.”

Similarly, others who have found accommodation have been told they cannot move in until an outbreak has been contained and controlled.

“We have lots of seniors awaiting placement. If a bed opens in any facility, it’s like gold,” Mema said. “We want to send them there but if there is an outbreak, they could die, that’s a real possibility. COPD, cancer, any medical condition that puts them at a higher risk for influenza.”

Seniors who must leave a facility that is already in an outbreak for an emergency room visit would be allowed to return because they would already have been exposed to influenza.

She described influenza season as “hugely disruptive” on the residential care system as well as the operations of acute care facilities like Kelowna General Hospital or Royal Inland Hospital.

“Seniors and their families are upset, doctors need the beds,” she said. “I don’t think we’ve had to cancel surgeries but it’s something we’ve discussed. We’re trying not to get to that. We have to balance the needs of the hospital but not put seniors at risk."

Flu season is at its peak, Mema says, with 15 residential care facilites accross the Interior Health Authority under an infuenza outbreak, according to its website.

Mema said the health authority monitors residential care facilities during influenza season and takes action at the first signs of an outbreak.

Once declared, residents are given Tamiflu and eight days must go by without any new cases, Mema said, while visitors are restricted, social activities are cancelled and cleaning is bolstered. If possible, residents with influenza are isolated in one part of a facility.

“Someone may be waiting all day for their grandson to visit and then they are told they can’t come,” Mema said. "It’s very upsetting and another reason to end the outbreaks as quickly as possible.”

Mema could not provide the number of confirmed cases of influenza or deaths within the health authority but said people with family members in residential care homes should take extra precautions.

“Don’t visit your loved ones if you have the flu, stay home,” added. “Once influenza gets into these facilities, they spread like wildfire."

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