Inova implements emergency plan to cope with flu season patient surge

Inova healthcare system has activated its emergency operations plan as its Northern Virginia hospitals face a huge surge of patients, including children with respiratory illnesses.

The plan is meant to better prioritize patients’ care and allocate resources at a time when the number of patients is climbing in hospitals nationwide that are also facing nursing shortages.

“I would say that the entire system is strained and that’s not just the emergency department. We are the recipient of a strained health care system for pediatrics. The amount of respiratory illness and regular illness is outstripping the ability of the health care system to take care of it,” said Dr. Frederick Place, medical director of the Pediatric Emergency Department at Inova.

RSV is one of the viruses producing a spike in pediatric patients. It’s a respiratory virus that causes cold-like symptoms that are usually mild in adults, but can cause more serious symptoms in children. There are a variety of other respiratory illnesses producing this surge, including influenza and parainfluenza.

Pediatricians’ offices are overwhelmed by requests for patient care, and some of the patients that are unable to be seen by their regular pediatrician wind up in hospital emergency departments.

“A lot of patients are being referred to the emergency department simply because [private practices] don’t have the capacity. It’s not that [patients] are all overwhelmingly sick, they just don’t have the capacity to take care of the kids. Same thing with urgent care, so this is really a capacity issue,” said Place.

“Nurses have left the profession, so you have increased need at the same time you have decreased nursing resources. Everything about this is a perfect storm … in the last few days we’re seeing 100 to 150 percent [patients] over what we saw at the same time in 2019, which was our busiest year ever,” Place said. “You’ve got a work force that’s strained and tired, that’s the negative, the positive is everybody’s doing the best they can, everybody’s coming in with good attitudes, everybody is trying the best they can to take care of patients.”

Place said the illnesses aren’t unusual — what hospitals are seeing is the high number of patients, likely due to the pandemic lockdown that contributed to the surge in illnesses.

“Instead of passing illnesses around and gaining immunity, we kept everybody away. Now, everybody’s together and they’re all getting the things they wouldn’t have gotten over the last two years,” said Place.

Place also echoes the assessment of the Virginia Department of Health, which warned Monday that the early signs are pointing to a worse flu season than in recent years.

“This is a lot of everything and there’s going to be a lot of flu here, very, very soon,” said Place.

Dick Uliano

Whether anchoring the news inside the Glass-Enclosed Nerve Center or reporting from the scene in Maryland, Virginia or the District, Dick Uliano is always looking for the stories that really impact people's lives.

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