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Emergency department is not always the best option

By Lorraine Graves

Published 3:32 PST, Fri December 13, 2019

Those in health care call it the winter surge. With emergency rooms filling up, and the waits getting longer, Vancouver Coastal Health has a couple of suggestions to save you time as well as to keep you from spreading or catching the flu—urgent care centres and face masks. 

“It’s cold and flu season, slips and falls become more common as streets and sidewalks get icy, and hectic holiday schedules can wreak havoc with regular appointments or treatment plans,” says Dr. Afshin Khazei, emergency department doctor and medical director of urgent and primary care centres in Vancouver and North Vancouver. “Unfortunately, it’s also when health-care clinics and doctors’ offices may be offering reduced hours during the holidays.”

To save time, if you are not in immediate danger, the health authority suggests you call your physician, your pharmacist, the nurse help line HealthLinkBC at 811, go to a walk-in clinic, or try one of the health region’s new urgent care clinics. 

“I hope everyone stays safe and healthy over the holiday season. But if urgent care is needed, two urgent and primary care centres (UPCCs) are open to provide people with faster and better access to the day-to-day non-emergency health-care services they need,” says Health Minister Adrian Dix.

It means driving out of Richmond, but compared to clogging up and cooling your heels, in an emergency department when your need isn’t life-threatening, an urgent care centre is a good option. Run by the health authority, their services are covered by MSP, just as they would be in your doctor’s office or an emergency ward. See below for hours and addresses. 

“At the UPCC we treat patients with injuries and illnesses that should be addressed by a health care provider within 12 to 24 hours, but do not require emergency care. We see things like fevers, sprains, cuts requiring stitches, broken bones and infections,” Khazei says.

The other announcement from Vancouver Coastal Health is that if you do not get the flu shot, you have to wear a face mask to go into a hospital for any reason. It’s the same consideration that doctors’ offices and nursing homes ask of you. People in those places are already unwell so adding your flu or cold to the mix could cost lives. 

Influenza kills in many ways. One is by dropping down part of your immunity to other infections. That leaves people more likely to get pneumonia and other infections. Added to existing illness or frailty, the combination can be lethal. 

Influenza can actually produce toxins that kill off the body’s infected cells. 

Yet another way that some influenzas kill is by over-stimulating the immune system leading to things such as a cytokine storm that destroys lungs. It’s why the Spanish flu epidemic mainly killed healthy young men with strong immune systems. 

It’s also why some years the flu shot makes you feel a bit off for a day or two. The shot doesn’t use live virus so you cannot catch influenza from the vaccine. Your body’s immune response to the flu shot gives you a much reduced experience of what actually having that flu would feel like. 

While it’s not too late to get the flu shot, whether you choose to or not, a face mask is a must until two weeks after your shot or if you have any flu-like symptoms. We hear so many stories of strangers saving a life through heroic actions. The three seconds it takes to get a flu shot could save your life, the life of a loved one or the life of a person you’ve never met. 

So, flu shots are still available for free from your family doctor, walk in clinic, urgent care centre, and most pharmacies. It’s an easy, handy way to save a life. 

If not, please wear a face mask, whether you feel sick or not, when you are heading to any health care centre or facility. 

And, remember, you don’t have to sit waiting in the emergency room if you can get to your doctor’s office or an urgent care clinic. Should you require emergency care, they will fast track you right into the hospital. 

There are two urgent care clinics in Metro Vancouver:

City Centre: 1290 Hornby St., Vancouver is open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. 

North Vancouver: 221 West Esplanade, is open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, and 9 4 p.m. Sundays

Click for more holiday care options.

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