Flu cases are filling local hospitals, causing some bed shortages

Flu shots down 36% in La Salle County from last year

St. Margaret’s is putting on hold its application to discontinue emergency and inpatient services at St. Margaret’s Health in Spring Valley, in hopes of pursuing a new designation that would maintain emergency care at both its Spring Valley and Peru hospitals.

At least two local hospitals are running out of bed space but the problem this time isn’t COVID-19, it’s the flu.

A spokeswoman for St. Margaret’s Health confirmed Wednesday a patient had to be transported to a facility in Wisconsin after an influx of influenza cases created a shortage of bed space at the Peru and Spring Valley hospitals.

“Most hospitals are experiencing increased admissions with bed capacity at their limits,” said Linda Burt, vice president of quality and community services.

The entrance to Morris Hospital

At Morris Hospital, the staff has seen a significant increase in flu activity compared to last year, including those who test positive in physician offices, immediate care settings and the emergency department, said Janet Long, public relations manager for Morris Hospital.

“In terms of how it’s affected bed availability – while we’re busy on our inpatient units, it’s not necessarily specific to the flu,” Long said. “It’s a combination of flu, COVID, respiratory illness, and all of the usual reasons for hospitalization, along with being a traditionally busy time of year for surgeries. But we’re always closely watching our bed count and making sure we have a good plan in place, as things can rapidly change.”

While the surge in flu cases was not deemed unpredictable – Americans have eagerly shed masks and other infection controls as the pandemic has slowed – the pace and severity have been striking.

Sue Smith, director of occupational health, safety and infection control for St. Margaret’s, said the first case diagnosed through the Spring Valley hospital (not the Peru hospital) was Oct. 9 and there have been a total 181 cases of influenza A through the Spring Valley hospital laboratory.

The Illinois Department of Public Health reported there are five flu outbreaks across the state and 16 influenza-associated ICU admissions statewide.

It hasn’t helped flu shots are down.

“To date, the (La Salle County) Health Department has administered 325 flu shots, which, historically, is low for us,” said Jenny Barrie of the health department. “Last year’s report for the same time period (September to November) shows staff had administered 506.”

Barrie and Burt encouraged the unvaccinated to consider getting the flu shot. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data indicate that the 2022-23 flu shot is “a good match” to protect against flu strains circulating.

“There is no question that vaccines reduce the severity of the disease and can prevent deaths,” Burt said. “Basic infection control practices – social distancing if sick, hand-washing – need to be practiced at all times.”

Long said residents know the drill when it comes to preventing viruses, such as the flu.

“Get your flu shot. Cover your coughs and sneezes. Wash your hands frequently. Stay home when you’re sick. If you’re sick and have to be around people, wear a mask to prevent spreading illness to others,” she said.

Anyone six months of age or older is eligible for the flu shot. Barrie emphasized it is not too late, as flu activity is usually highest between December and February, though it can last as late as May.

Anyone still in need of a flu shot can walk in to the Health Department from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. No appointment is necessary, but bring an insurance card. Call the health department at 815-433-3366 for information.