Swine flu fears increase patient load

Emergency Management Alert, May 5, 2009

Amid scares that the influenza A (H1N1), swine flu, cases were accumulating throughout the nation and the world, patients rushed to emergency rooms with the slightest sign of symptoms.

As a result, a significant challenge for hospitals over the last week was separating the “worried well” from the truly sick.

In California, where there have been 26 confirmed cases of H1N1, the Hospital Association of Southern California reported 12% more patients in Los Angeles hospitals, according to the L.A. Times. Many hospitals had to quickly isolate those who were visibly ill, whereas those complaining of symptoms were given masks and separated from other ER patients. The “worried well” were evaluated and sent home.

San Joaquin Community Hospital in Bakersfield, CA, reported a daily record of 188 patients in the ER, none of whom even had symptoms that required testing.

In New York City, which tallied 49 confirmed cases, children’s hospitals were particularly swamped, according to the New York Times. In many cases patients were referred to the hospital by their doctor even though they did not demonstrate symptoms like fever and nausea associated with swine flu.

At Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, the ER saw 392 patients on Wednesday and 369 on Thursday, doubling their average amount, according to the New York Times. Many hospitals were forced to bring in extra staffing for laboratories overrun with specimens.

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