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Cold, Flu Cases Packing ERs

Posted: January 22, 2008 11:24 a.m.
Updated: March 24, 2008 2:02 a.m.

Samantha Liggvtt, 6, waits with her mother Viridiana while she is treated for various flu symptoms at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital. Since Jan. 15, the average number of patients visiting the ER climbed to 143 per day.

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Sniffling and sneezing patients are congesting hospital emergency rooms across the county, and at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital, those patients can create a backlog that increases wait times for all patients in the ER.

"It can certainly create more of a waiting period for those who are coming in with true emergencies," Newhall Memorial spokeswoman Laura Young said Monday. "It can create a backlog of patients and it can create longer wait times."
Wait times of four to six hours have been reported at hospitals throughout the county, according to the county Emergency Medical Services Agency, which tracks emergency room saturation.
Newhall Memorial sees those with the most life-threatening symptoms or injuries first, so cold and flu patients may have to wait hours to be seen, Young said.
"If a patient is experiencing a situation that requires medical attention but is not life-threatening, they may receive faster care if they visit an urgent care clinic or schedule a same-day appointment with their physician," she said.
Though the hospital does not track how many cold and flu patients visit the ER, Young said there has been a significant increase in ER patients since the fall.
In November, there was an average of 118 patients in the ER each day, she said. In December, the average was 114. Since Jan. 15, the average number of patients visiting the emergency room has climbed to 143 per day.
Since Dec. 30, hospitals throughout the county have increased their requests for ambulance traffic to be diverted from emergency rooms. The county-wide diversion rate jumped from 12 percent on Dec. 30 to 21 percent on Jan. 12.
"Patients tend to flood local emergency rooms at this time of year for symptoms that can most often be more quickly and appropriately treated by a primary care doctor," Dr. Bruce Chernof, director of the county Department of Health Services said in a statement. For those with flu-like symptoms, such as a sore throat, a fever and a cough, health officials recommend patients contact their primary care physician. Cold and flu patients who have significant illnesses like diabetes, heart trouble or lung disease are urged to visit the emergency room if no other alternatives are available. There is still time to get a flu shot and there are plenty of shots left, county health officials said.
Those who do not have primary care physicians can call the county Health Information Line at (800) 427-8700 or visit www.lapublichealth.org for information on low-cost clinics throughout the county.
kgeyer@the-signal.com


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