With flu season in high gear, hospital emergency departments have been functioning at capacity and one – Kaweah Delta Medical Center in Visalia – has erected a tent outside to make room for visitors.
On Thursday, Clovis Community Medical Center had turned its main lobby into a temporary waiting room to handle an overflow of emergency department patients.
We had 45 patients at one point who were admitted but holding in the emergency department for hospital beds.
Dr. Edward Hirsch, Kaweah Delta Medical Center
The flu and other respiratory illnesses – bronchitis, colds, asthma – have stressed the busy emergency department, said Dr. Edward Hirsch, chief medical and quality officer at Kaweah Delta. On Friday, the 33-room emergency department saw 289 patients, he said. “We had 45 patients at one point who were admitted but holding in the emergency department for hospital beds.”
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The 570-square-foot reception tent, which was set up last week, is freeing space in the indoor waiting room for use as a treatment area, Hirsch said.
Shuttling visitors to tents during flu season is not new in the central San Joaquin Valley. Kaweah used the tent in 2008 and erected but did not use it in 2015. Four years ago, Community Regional Medical Center in downtown Fresno had a tent for an influx of patients.
Influenza and respiratory syncytial virus have slammed Valley Children’s Hospital this winter. Over the holidays, it was routine for the hospital to see 450 children a day. That has decreased slightly as private doctor offices have reopened from the holiday break, but the flu and RSV continue to spread.
RSV is making babies really sick, said Dr. Katharine Long, an emergency medicine physician. “We’re seeing RSV really hit in our less than 2-month-old population,” she said. “They’re coming in a lot of times just not breathing.” School-age children are coming in with the flu – high fever, body aches, headaches, vomiting.
Saint Agnes Medical Center in northeast Fresno saw laboratory-confirmed flu cases spike from 13 the week of Dec. 18 to 66 the week of Jan. 1. So far this week, Saint Agnes has seen 16 flu patients. It’s too soon to know if that’s a signal that the flu season is ebbing. Historically, the peak is in mid-February. Doctors continue to encourage people to get flu shots.
“I like the mantra ‘it’s never too late to vaccinate,’ ” said Dr. Kenneth Bird, health officer for Fresno County. Patients should check with their doctors and health departments for flu shots, but vaccine also is available at retail pharmacies.
If you think you have the flu, contact your doctor, said David Luchini, assistant director of the Fresno County Department of Public Health. Taking anti-viral medications within the first 48 hours of symptoms can speed recovery, he said.
But Luchini admonishes: “Stay home if you’re sick. Don’t go to work with a fever.”