Area hospitals cope with trifecta of respiratory illnesses

High patient volume has been hitting Dayton Children’s since late October.

Local hospitals are seeing an influx of patients with respiratory illnesses as cases of influenza, COVID-19, and RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, continue to spread.

“It is certainly an earlier surge than what we are normally seeing at this point in the year,” said Sarah Hackenbracht, president and CEO of the Greater Dayton Area Hospital Association. “Things kicked off earlier this fall with the RSV surge for pediatric patients, and unfortunately, our flu hospitalizations and cases have started to trend right along behind RSV by about two or three weeks.”

The flu season is hitting earlier, but Hackenbracht said hospitals are managing the uptick in patients, saying, “These respiratory illnesses are things that we have gotten very good at managing.”

Dayton-area hospitals are seeing staff impacted by the spread of illnesses, whether getting sick themselves or needing to take time off to care for family members.

“Because this is a very high illness season, it is also impacting our hospital workforce,” Hackenbracht said. “As individuals and young children contracted RSV or they contracted other respiratory viruses, we have those parents who work in our area hospitals and health care centers who have needed to take time off to care for loved ones, and so those kind of community-oriented challenges put additional pressure on our hospitals.”

Staffing issues at hospitals

Hospitals are coping with staffing demands with lessons they have learned during recent years in the pandemic. Hackenbracht said hospitals have learned how to adjust as situations warrant various levels of staffing.

“Periodically, we do have hospitals across Ohio actually that may need patients to stay in the emergency department a little bit longer because we’re waiting on a bed to open up on a unit, but that’s not also necessarily indicative of just hospital challenges,” Hackenbracht said. “That tells us still that we’ve got challenges across the health care continuum getting patients discharged, out of the hospital, and sometimes into post acute settings or skilled nursing or rehabilitation settings. If those don’t happen when we need them to, then it’s hard to get patients moving through the hospital.”

The influx of patients will continue to be on hospitals’ radar.

“We’re getting a lot busier,” said Dr. Roberto Colon, chief medical officer of Miami Valley Hospital. He said Miami Valley Hospital is seeing more patients come into the hospital, particularly with the trifecta of the three major respiratory illnesses spreading.

Kettering Health is also seeing busy emergency rooms at its hospitals. Dr. Jeffrey Weinstein, patient safety officer and medical doctor at Kettering Health, said they anticipate their patient volumes based on information from public health departments and staff their hospitals accordingly.

“Currently, our emergency departments are busy and wait times may be increased due to the large numbers of respiratory infections,” Weinstein said. “Fortunately, influenza rates have eased over the last couple of weeks and RSV is more concentrated in the pediatric population.”

As emergency room patients may face longer wait times, patients with mild cases of respiratory illnesses are encouraged to connect with their primary care doctor for treatment options. There still may instances, though, where emergency treatment is needed.

“We are never going to turn anyone away,” Colon said.

Symptoms to look for

Symptoms of shortness of breath if that is out of the ordinary for that patient, as well as if an individual has a fever that does not go away with over the counter medication, are potential signs someone may need to go to the emergency room. If individuals become malnourished, such as if they are not able to keep down fluids or food, or if a patient is dealing with confusion or sleepiness and are not able to become alert are other potential symptoms of concern. Any new chest pain should be evaluated, too, Colon said.

Miami Valley Hospital is not back to what they saw during the pandemic. Colon said, at this point, they are not seeing the influx of severely ill patients they had during previous COVID-19 surges, but if the number of patients still continues to rise, they may see challenges. Area health departments say flu cases are continuing to spread and rise.

“Flu is still a concern in Warren County. We have seen a sharp spike in flu hospitalizations in the past few weeks, and it is still in the inclining phase. It is important for everyone eligible for the flu vaccine to get vaccinated,” said Allison Combs, public information officer at the Warren County Health District.

Children’s hospitals across Ohio and U.S. saw similar challenges with RSV cases, with many hospitals having to lean on surge capacity plans to help find enough space for all of the patients.

“We hope that’s not something that becomes an issue for our adult populations,” Colon said.

Children cases at high volume

Dayton Children’s Hospital is still seeing a high volume of RSV, flu, and other respiratory patients and has been seeing a high volume since late October.

“We are working closely with our internal teams to do everything possible to make sure our inpatient beds are available for the pediatric patients in our region that need us,” said Jayne Gmeiner, vice president and chief nursing officer at Dayton Children’s. “The RSV and flu rates are the highest we have seen in our history. The good news is this week we have seen a slight decrease in both RSV and flu.”

Dayton Children’s has been coping with this ongoing high volume of patients by creating more spaces to care for their patients.

The children’s hospital is managing resources and partnering with other area hospitals and organizations to get the equipment they need to treat their patients.

“We established an internal committee to meet daily or more often to partner together to manage our resource needs with all of our hospital departments and physician leadership,” Gmeiner said. “We have borrowed and rented additional equipment from local hospitals, including cribs and respiratory equipment. Our pharmacy has been amazing in partnering with our pediatricians at developing medication plans to manage the pharmacy resource issues impacting medication management.”

As for what individuals can do to help prevent the spread, doctors continue to recommend getting vaccinated against COVID-19 and the flu.

“Two of those illnesses are illnesses for which we have vaccines,” Colon said, adding vaccinations can reduce illnesses and illness severity. “Please make sure you’re keeping up with your vaccinations.”

Vaccinations can also help protect children from the spread of respiratory illnesses.

“Flu shots are vitally important for our pediatric population,” Gmeiner said.

Additional steps that people can take to prevent the flu are:

  • Cover coughs and sneezes
  • Avoid contact with people who are sick
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that are frequently used

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