Surge Protecting U.S. Emergency RoomsSeptember 8, 2009 - 12:59 PM | by: David Lewkowict
Emergency Rooms across the nation are near capacity. Now, the H1N1 flu pandemic threatens to push many of them beyond their limits.
A report to the President warned a shortage of ventilators and ICU beds may force hospitals to turn patients away.
According to Dr. Harry Keyserling of Emory University, the nationwide problem needs attention. “We don’t have much surge capacity in the United States or intensive care beds or ventilators. As things get worse, we really could be stretching our resources,” he said.
In a televised address to the nation, President Obama told health officials to get ready. “We need hospitals and health care providers to continue preparing for an increased patient load.”
A patient load that has ER docs concerned. ”Hospitals have taken the same approach as the airlines have. They’ve tried to fill every seat. A full hospital is an economically efficient hospital. But a full hospital at the start of a flu season is a very, very tough place to manage. ” According to Dr. Arthur Kellerman, professor of Emergency Medicine at Emory University in Atlanta.
Predictions of 40% or 140 million Americans impacted by flu, means the system could be overloaded very quickly. “If even a small percentage of those folks run to the doctor or the ER on a given month, the system will be severely challenged,” Kellermann said.
Hospitals are taking steps to prepare. The first line of defence is prevention. Encouraging sick patients to wear masks, frequently wash hands and use alcohol based sanitizers.
ERs nationwide are streamlining triage systems to better isolate those infected with H1N1. Many are expanding treatment areas into spaces often reserved for other uses and are utilizing negative air-flow rooms that contain and filter air in the room.
Kellerman said, “The most significant concern is what do we do if we have large numbers of critically ill patients and we’re running out of ICU beds or ventilators. That is not a problem today. But it’s one we have to be thinking about and one we have to be prepared to deal with.”