Sunday, September 16, 2001

Hospitals brace for flu season

By Tim Bonfield
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Every new cut in hospital capacity raises new questions about how well Tristate hospitals will handle the coming flu season.

        Last winter, Greater Cincinnati witnessed a record number of ambulance diversions — situations when overwhelmed hospitals asked life squads to take non-critical cases to other facilities.

        But last winter was considered a mild flu season. And going into this winter, there will be one less hospital in the area because Mercy Hamilton hospital closed in April.

        Among the hopeful signs: the flu vaccine is expected to be available sooner than it was last year. Also, a new electronic communication system should make it easier than it was last year to guide life squads to hospitals with available beds.

        Last year, hospitals and fire chiefs worked out a plan to increase hospital capacity on an emergency basis, said Lynn Olman, president of the Greater Cincinnati Health Council.

        To cope with staff shortages, administrators and managers with nursing skills were moved into patient care. To boost capacity, hospitals received approval from state and federal health regulators to put beds in cafeterias, meeting rooms and other non-patient care areas.

        Although the vaccine was delayed by manufacturing problems, hospitals backed a massive campaign to promote flu shots. A public campaign also promoted hand-washing to reduce infection risk.

        There was even talk of pressing retired nurses and students into service and opening “treat and release” centers, much like the temporary facilities used in a natural disaster. Such steps proved unnecessary last year.

        Depending on the severity of the flu season — which remains too early to predict — similar steps may be needed this year.


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