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Flu, other illnesses fill County hospitals to capacity

CARIBOU, Maine — Hospitals in Aroostook County are filled to capacity as medical personnel provide health care to patients with the flu and other illnesses.

Cary Medical Center staff in Caribou have been incredibly busy handling an abnormally large number of patients lately, according to Public Relations Director Bill Flagg, who said the facility has been “virtually full for the past several weeks.”

“I’ve been working at the hospital forever and I haven’t seen this many inpatients for a while,” Flagg said on March 12. He indicated that many other hospitals are experiencing similar demand for beds.

“Someone told me a couple weeks ago that there ‘wasn’t a hospital bed in Maine,’ which is pretty rare.”

Dr. James Harris, an internal medicine specialist at Northern Maine Medical Center said on Wednesday, March 13, that the Fort Kent hospital also is at capacity in terms of current hospitalizations.

“It’s not just us up here,” he said. “Every bed in the state is full.”

Harris said patients at NMMC have been hospitalized with influenza and a variety of other illnesses.

“At Northern Light AR Gould, we are regularly at or near capacity,” said Karen Gonya, communications manager for the Presque Isle hospital. “One of the challenges we continue to face when it comes to bed availability is the number of patients we have in hospital beds who do not need acute care but are waiting for placement in a long-term care or skilled nursing facility.”

She added that it has been a busy winter for the hospital, but “it is not unusual for us.”

According to Flagg, Cary Medical Nursing Director Paula Parent said that she and the Cary team do their best “to accommodate patients when they come in” while working to ensure that they are taken care of quickly enough so that a discharge can occur within hours of their admittance so other incoming patients have access to a bed.

While there are a “variety of factors” leading to Cary’s high capacity, Flagg said most patients are displaying symptoms of the flu.

“The flu can be very serious,” said Flagg, “especially in older adults and younger children. We try really hard to get as many people as possible to get their flu shots by offering free clinics throughout our service area.”

He estimated that Cary has administered roughly 1,100 flu vaccinations this year, adding that there are currently several other ways that patients can get flu shots, such as at their doctor’s office or even the local pharmacy.

“There’s a lot more access to flu shots than there used to be,” he said, “and we encourage people to get the vaccine. It doesn’t mean they won’t get the flu, but if they do, it’s generally less severe and it often prevents people from getting it in the first place.”

Houlton Regional Hospital was experiencing similar issues in terms of capacity on Wednesday, March, 13, according to CEO Tom Moakler. The hospital has 19 acute care beds at its facility, and is often at that max capacity as long as there are enough nurses available to cover that many patients.

“If (the hospital was at max capacity and) someone were to come in to the emergency room and had to be admitted, there would be communication to see if any of the patients on the floor were close to being discharged,” Moakler said. “If we knew one of those patients was going to be discharged, we would hold the other patient in the ER room. If not, they would be transferred.”

Moakler said this past week has been busy in terms of being at capacity for a variety of ailments, and not just for flu related needs.

“We know a lot of the hospitals are busy, but nine times out of 10, we can make things work,” Moakler added.

Writers Anthony Brino of The Star-Herald, Joseph Cyr of the Houlton Pioneer Times, and Jessica Potila of Fiddlehead Focus contributed to this report.

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