Manitoba

Winnipeg's Children's Hospital postpones some elective surgeries after spike in flu patients

On an average day, 135-140 children visit the emergency room at Children's Hospital, but over the last few weeks that number has surged to more than 220, which the hospital says has prompted the postponement of a number of elective pediatric surgeries.

'We've got some really sick kids out in the community and we want to be able to respond,' says HSC official

Shared Health says HSC Children's Hospital has been inundated with children at the emergency department and has 120 lab-confirmed cases of respiratory illnesses. (Chepko Danil Vitalevich/Shutterstock)

A number of elective pediatric surgeries are being postponed at Health Sciences Centre Children's Hospital over a spike in cases of respiratory illnesses, including influenza, Shared Health announced in a release Thursday.

In just over a month, the Winnipeg hospital has admitted 120 babies and children with lab-confirmed cases of infections and influenza-like illnesses.

On an average day, 135-140 children visit the emergency room at Children's Hospital, but over the last few weeks that number has surged to more than 220, said Dr. Patricia Birk, medical director of child health at the Health Sciences Centre.

Thirty-six children with respiratory illnesses are currently hospitalized.

"It's definitely higher than our normal that we're seeing, but we haven't peaked this high before," added Monica Warren, chief nursing officer at HSC. "We've got some really sick kids out in the community and we want to be able to respond."

The hospital is aiming to preserve space for especially sick children who need to stay in the pediatric and neonatal intensive care units, she said.

"We recognize that any change to the timeline for a surgery will cause some stress and worry for our patients and their families, particularly in cases involving children," said Nicole Sneath, the director of child health at HSC. 

"We will be communicating with families directly and we'll reschedule as soon as possible."

She added surgeries will hopefully be rescheduled within four to eight weeks.

The hospital has taken steps to create additional space for patients who need care, Sneath said, but more needed to be done.

"We have increased our capacity in the [pediatric intensive care unit] and in other areas of Children's [Hospital]," she said.

"However, the sustained nature of the increase has made it necessary for us to look at all options to ensure we have the ability to continue to admit and care for our sickest children," she said.

Emergency and urgent surgeries, day surgeries and cancer cases are not affected by this announcement.

Shared Health estimates this will affect fewer than five surgeries a week.

"Surgeons will review planned surgeries on a case-by-case basis to determine those that may be safely postponed," Birk said.

"Our focus is on those surgical cases where the patient is able to safely remain at home until their surgery and where a short delay will not have negative medical consequences."

To curb the spread of illness, the hospital is limiting visits to the pediatric intensive care and neonatal intensive care units to those over the age of five, and to people who are up to date on their immunizations and are not sick.

Shared Health says there are no plans to postpone elective surgeries for adults at HSC at this time.

Health Sciences is the second hospital in the city to take this step during this flu season.

St. Boniface Hospital began postponing some non-urgent and elective surgeries that require hospitalization this past Friday over high numbers of emergency room visits and intensive care requests related to the flu.