FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – A virulent flu strain is being blamed for the deaths of dozens of North Texans and has sickened many more. At John Peter Smith in Fort Worth, emergency room traffic has jumped some 35 percent.
“A lot of patients are requiring admission — more than usual, and that fills up beds upstairs and there’s no place to put them other than in the ED [Emergency Department],” says Gary Floyd, MD, JPS Chief Medical Officer. “So we’ve had as many as 35 patients waiting for admission taking up our 56 ER beds.”
The ER backlog at area hospitals got so bad this week that ambulances were sometimes delayed an hour or more waiting for patients to be admitted. So, MedStar, Tarrant County’s ambulance service, implemented a protocol developed during the flu outbreak of 2009: bringing in extra stretchers and putting paramedics in the hospital emergency rooms.
“Either our field supervisors or our mobile healthcare paramedics actually monitor multiple patients that we’ve brought in and the ambulances can take the spare stretchers and go back out onto the street to respond to the calls that we have coming in,” says Matt Zavadsky, MedStar Public Affairs Director. “It’s working hand in hand with the entire health care system to make sure the hospital has the resources they have—even if it’s some resources that we’re lending to them– and we have the resources available in the street to respond to that heart attack or the car crash that may be occurring.”
JPS officials say the plan has been a “tremendous” help. But, they are still also pushing prevention.
“This is a virulent strain,” says Dr. Floyd, “so people that have not gotten the flu vaccine, they need to get a flu shot. They don’t want to go through what our patients have gone through.”
Destiny Lewis, 8, got her flu shot today at a Tarrant County health clinic in Arlington. “It hurt a little bit; but, I didn’t cry.”
But, in spite of the widespread warnings, her mother remained unconvinced.
“I don’t like shots myself,” says Chevanne Lodrigue. “I use hand sanitizer like its lotion and I wash my hands constantly, so I’m just going to try and prevent it that way instead of getting the needle.”
Meanwhile, weary health officials are hoping that they’ve seen the worst of the outbreak. Admissions at JPS have dropped; but, the hospital is also maintaining ‘code yellow’ status which means that elective procedures are being postponed and the hospital is no longer accepting non-trauma transfers from other facilities.