Doctors seeing triple the rate of people with flu-like symptoms at one Bellingham hospital

BELLINGHAM, Wash. - One-hundred and nine people in Washington state have died from the flu this season, according to the Washington State Department of Health. The story is similar in almost every state except Hawaii.

One of the best places to witness the severity of the flu in our region is at PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham.

When you are an ER doctor, it’s always fast paced but lately work is more intense for Dr. Worth Everett.

“You never know what the day is going to hold,” Everett said.

The flu is packing a painful punch this year across the country and PeaceHealth St. Joseph is a local example.

Up to 80 people on average per day are rushing to the ER with flu-like symptoms that’s about triple the normal rate.

“We’ve had wait times for as long as 4 to 5 hours,” Everett said.

The hospital has extra beds tucked along hallways to make room.

On top of the stresses on staff, there is a supply shortage of things like IV bags.

“There is a massive drug shortage across the US due to big hurricanes down in Puerto Rico there is a lot of new challenges to this year’s flu season,” Chief Operating Officer Cherie Martin said.

They are improvising the best they can to treat cases they typically do not see.

“Even our healthy patients are being affected across the country,” Everett said.

Take for example a young lady in her mid-thirties who is hospitalized at the hospital. Her case is so severe she had to go on something similar to life support. Doctors say her condition is getting better.

Doctors don’t want you to rush to the ER at the first sign of the flu.

“So after a couple of days, things are getting worse, absolutely getting worse that’s when we advise them to see us,” Everett said.

But if you end up in the ER, Dr. Everett says he and his staff are ready.

“We don’t see the end in sight, I think the worst is even still to come,” Everett said.

Doctors say it’s still not too late to get a flu shot. They acknowledge the vaccine is only about 30% effective against the H3N2 strain but some protection is still better than nothing.