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Hospitals Overwhelmed by Flu Patients Are Treating Them in Tents

Hospitals Overwhelmed by Flu Patients Are Treating Them in Tents
From TIME - January 18, 2018

The 2017-2018 influenza epidemic is sending people to hospitals and urgent-care centers in every state, and medical centers are responding with extraordinary measures: asking staff to work overtime, setting up triage tents, restricting friends and family visits and canceling elective surgeries, to name a few.

We are pretty much at capacity, and the volume is certainly different from previous flu seasons, says Dr. Alfred Tallia, professor and chair of family medicine at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical Center in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Ive been in practice for 30 years, and its been a good 15 or 20 years since Ive seen a flu-related illness scenario like weve had this year.

Tallia says his hospital is managing, but just barely, at keeping up with the increased number of sick patients in the last three weeks. The hospitals urgent-care centers have also been inundated, and its outpatient clinics have no appointments available.

MORE: Heres Why the Flu Is Especially Bad This Year

The story is similar in Alabama, which declared a state of emergency last week in response to the flu epidemic. Dr. Bernard Camins, associate professor of infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, says that UAB Hospital cancelled elective surgeries scheduled for Thursday and Friday of last week to make more beds available to flu patients.

We had to treat patients in places where we normally wouldnt, like in recovery rooms, says Camins. The emergency room was very crowded, both with sick patients who needed to be admitted and patients who just needed to be seen and given Tamiflu.

In California, which has been particularly hard hit by this seasons flu, several hospitals have set up large surge tents outside their emergency departments to accommodate and treat flu patients. Even then, the LA Times reported this week, emergency departments had standing-room only, and some patients had to be treated in hallways.

The Lehigh Valley Health System in Allentown, Pennsylvania, set up a similar surge tent in its parking lot on Monday, in response to an increase in patients presenting with various viral illnesses, including norovirus, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and the flu. Weve put it into operation a couples times now over the last few days, said a hospital spokesperson. I think Tuesday we saw upwards of about 40 people in the tent itself.

Many hospitals are also encouraging visitors to stay away. Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center announced last week that it was temporarily restricting visits from children 14 and under and anyone with flu symptoms. This measure is to prevent unnecessary spread of influenza and to protect you, our patients, and our staff, the health system posted on Facebook.

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