While hospitals prepare for flu season every year, this year’s flu outbreak has prompted some medical centers to move extra staff into their emergency departments to handle the higher volume of patients.
“We started seeing elevated levels of patient visits in our emergency department in late December — enough significantly above what we would normally expect,” said Stephen Daugherty, CEO of Coliseum Health System, who oversees its Macon hospitals, Coliseum Medical Centers and Coliseum Northside Hospital.
So, as needed, the hospitals reassign employees “to help us direct patient care ... to the (Emergency Department). ... We are using everybody at full capacity.”
Flu season generally runs from September through April, with the peak from late December through February, said Michael Hokanson, public information officer for the North Central Health District.
So far this year, six deaths have been reported across the district, he said. All of those were people who were 50 or older.
“During the 2016-2017 flu season, we had zero flu-related deaths in our 13-county district, and there were nine confirmed flu-related deaths across Georgia,” he said.
The common symptoms of the flu are fever, sore throat and coughing, body aches, stuffy or runny nose and fatigue. Most people infected with the virus will recover in several days to two weeks. If you get the flu, you should see your doctor and request Tamiflu if you can take it within the first 48 hours of infection.
And it’s not too late to get a flu vaccine , which is free to uninsured patients while it lasts, at all of the district’s county health departments, which can be found at NCHD52.org/Locations.
The Georgia Hospital Association reported this week that this flu’s season is “the worst in almost a decade” and that hospital ERs “have been inundated.”
Typically, during non-flu season, Daugherty said early mornings are usually fairly slow, and they see an increase about 11 a.m. that will continue until about 10 p.m. when it trails off.
But that flow has changed.
“What we’ve seen is higher volumes in that morning period and higher peaks in the late afternoon and continuing on well past midnight,” he said.
But Daugherty said they are prepared to handle the increase.
“We do triage patients at different levels,” he said. “So people who are coming in with the flu or flu-like symptoms will typically go to our quick-flow area. And once they are assessed there, if there is someone at a higher risk who is either exhibiting flu-like symptoms or tests positive (for the flu), then they will get moved back to the main ER, where we have a little bit higher level of care to make sure they are in a safe environment.”
Dr. Mickey Bansal, co-medical director of Coliseum Northside Hospital emergency services, agreed that while the ER expects to see a certain number of flu patients each year, this year’s strain “is more rampant. ... And this year the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) says it’s one of the worse flu seasons” because it’s so widespread across the U.S. “at exactly the same time.”
The Medical Center, Navicent Health, also in Macon, is seeing an increase in its ER with patients with the flu or flu-like symptoms, said Dr. John Wood, director of the emergency center.
“Unfortunately, there is no cure-all treatment for flu, and the virus simply must run its course,” Wood said. “However, if a patient has difficulty breathing, severe chest or abdominal pain, or severe and continuous vomiting, they should see a doctor. We encourage anyone seeking treatment to use our InQuicker check-in option, located at www.navicenthealth.org, to hold a place in line at one of our Urgent Care centers.”
Visitation at all of Navicent Health’s facilities has been restricted since Jan. 8 to children 12 or older to help protect patients and caregivers during the flu season. Anyone with symptoms of a cold or flu is asked not to visit medical facilities.