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Spotlight on flu season: Where hospitals are slammed hardest

ERs are filling up nationwide, triggering ambulance diversions and bed shortages. Here's a roundup of reports from various geographical regions.

Beth Jones Sanborn, Managing Editor

This year's flu season is wreaking havoc on hospitals across the country, with ERs overflowing, hospitals diverting patients and too few beds to go around.

NBC Bay Area reported Thursday that in some California counties the rate of flu cases has doubled in just the last couple weeks. Already the flu has killed at least 10 people across the state and hospitals are slammed. As a result, hospitals are taking extra steps to protect patients. South Bay hospitals El Camino Hospital  and  Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz are restricting visitors to 16 years or older.

[Also: North Carolina hospitals impose visitor restrictions to protect patients, combat flu outbreak]

One Southern CA hospital has actually set up a tent outside its ER to handle the onslaught of flu patients, the station said.

In Tucson, hospitals are boosting staff levels to contend with an influx of patients. Local media said St. Mary's Hospital is seeing between 25-35 percent more patients than usual, and Tucson Medical Center has been hit with a 10 percent uptick in patient volume compared to this time last year.

[Also: 4 in 10 healthcare professionals work when they're sick, risking patients]

The city's Northwest Medical Center and Oro Valley Hospital have increased staff as well and are also banning visitors under the age of 16.
Some North Texas hospitals are asking visitors with flu symptoms to stay away, and are banning visitors under the age of 12.

Three hospitals in Rhode Island went on diversion status Wednesday after both cold weather accidents and flu sufferers overwhelmed their emergency departments. Rhode Island Hospital, Miriam Hospital and Roger Williams Medical Center were on diversion status at the same time Wednesday morning, according to the Providence Journal. State law, however, prohibits more than two hospitals from doing so at a time. Subsequently, all three were forced open.

The state health department declared the flu as being "widespread," which triggers a requirement that unvaccinated health workers must wear surgical masks.

Illinois has given the same designation to flu activity, and hospitals there have implemented special visitor restrictions as a result at HSHS St. Joseph's Hospital in Highland, HSHS Holy Family Hospital in Greenville and Anderson Hospital in Maryville, according to the Belleville News-Democrat.

At Anderson Hospital, visitors displaying any flu-like symptoms are prohibited, and patients younger than 18 are not allowed on patient floors. Also, visitors to the hospital's Pavilion for Women are restricted to the baby's siblings and four other guests designated by the mother, the report said, as the hospital cannot risk subjecting those vulnerable patients to illness.

Holy Family and St. Joseph's are using "respiratory etiquette stations" at their entrances, which stock tissues, masks, and sanitizing hand gel for visitors. Hospital officials are also requesting not to visit hospital patients if you have flu-like symptoms, are under 18 years old or are pregnant.

In California, CBS LA has reported crowded ERs and scarce hospital beds in Southern California thanks to flu season. As of Wednesday evening, more than half of all the ERs in Orange County were filled to capacity with flu sufferers and in general are deluged with patients suffering from the potentially deadly virus. One doctor told the news station the vaccine isn't always effective and that's part of the problem.

"Every year they try to guess which strain is going to be the most predominant strain," emergency room physician Nguyen Khuu, MD, told KCAL. "I think this year they just didn't hit the mark."

Last year at this time, Orange County has seen about 500 cases of the flu. This year, they are up to 1,232 cases.

One registered nurse who directs ambulance traffic for the OC said on a daily basis more than half of ERs are at capacity. Patients are overflowing into the lobby and there were no open beds at Orange County Global Medical Center.

KCAL also reported that LA County is taking a bad hit as well. This year they've seen 19 flu-related deaths. That's up from last year's count of nine.

Twitter: @BethJSanborn
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