Some hospitals across the Greater Toronto Area are dealing with a massive uptick in patients flooding their emergency rooms, with one resorting to a 24-hour command centre to manage the workload.
Lakeridge Health, which serves Durham Region, says it is dealing with a "record number" of ER visits and hospital admissions, above what the system typically experiences over the holiday season.
The Oshawa facility has set up a 24/7 command centre with a special team of health-care workers to plan patient care, and has opened up an additional 48 beds to take care of patients. They've also had as many as 60 people admitted to the ER waiting for a bed, said Dr. Tony Stone, chief of staff at Lakeridge.
That also means bringing in more staff to care for those patients, Stone said.
"We plan for and expect a rise in activity through the holiday season and we also around this time of year would expect to see an increase in the influenza activity so that we get much busier through the holiday season and through the winter," Stone told CBC Toronto.
But there's been a "significant rise" in ER visits over the last week, which has corresponded with a "significant surge" of influenza — or flu — activity, he said.
"We know influenza will really peak from now right through January and into February and that would be typical. So we in fact plan for that," Stone said.
"This year is unusual because there's a lot more activity than normal and that's what caused us to take this approach to set up the command centre."
Each year, the severity of the flu strain will fluctuate and hit different communities at different rates, Stone said.
This year, Durham has been hit hard by the flu, he said. And it seems other hospitals have been, too. Lakeridge staff have tried to transfer patients to other facilities to ease the burden, but have been told by other hospitals that they are experiencing the same problem.
Humber River Hospital told CBC Toronto that it, too, experienced historic and unexpected patient volume over the holidays. But staff there suspect that may have been connected to the short post-Christmas week, when some nearby clinics remained closed.
Stone said that all patients with severe flu symptoms or other critical ailments should always go the emergency room for care. However, patients with mild symptoms can stay home and rest, while patients with moderate symptoms can visit their family doctor.
Another way to avoid long wait times at the ER is the flu shot, he said.
This year's flu strain matches well with this year's vaccine, he said. With flu activity lasting well into February, it's not too late to get it.
"It will help to keep them safe and their family safe," Stone said.