Flu 'epidemic' in Washington putting strain on area hospitals

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- The flu is at epidemic levels in Washington, the state Department of Health says. And area hospitals are having a hard time keeping up.

In Thurston County, Providence St. Peter Hospital officials say it’s seeing four times more patients with flu-like symptoms than it usually does. Administrators say every bed is full and that the rapid spread of the influenza virus is playing a big part.

“So the flu has taken hold big-time this year and it’s hitting in really high volumes now and what we’re seeing is really sick people in the hospital and just a lot of flu in the community,” said Jill Cooper, vice president of quality control at Providence.

Providence St. Peter is not alone. Other area hospitals are seeing the same thing. That’s why officials activated the “Disaster Medical Control Center”, covering nine regional hospitals in Pacific, Mason, Lewis, Grays Harbor and Thurston counties.

It’s a big step, and a very rare one, because Providence officials say it’s the first time it’s happened in about a decade.

“We didn’t have beds to place people, so by activating the DMCC, it allowed us to better coordinate and, again, better care for patients as quickly as possible,” said Cooper.

Hospital administrators predict the influenza epidemic will get worse before it gets better. It’s why they’re urging people to get vaccinated because it may be the only line of defense you have.

“Is the flu shot perfect? No, but it’s the only primary prevention step for the flu,” said Angela Dickson, who works in regional infection prevention for Providence.

Currently, anyone showing flu-like symptoms must wear a mask when you enter Providence St. Peter. However, administrators are discussing whether to heighten those precautions, either increasing cleaning services or even restricting visitors entirely.