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Surge of flu patients taxes area hospital emergency rooms

Updated: February 9, 2013 6:33AM

Eleven Illinois hospitals had to turn away most patients from their emergency rooms Monday night because of a surge of people with flu symptoms.

The hospitals that were on bypass — a temporary diversion of ambulances to other hospitals because of the volume of patients — included Northwestern Memorial Hospital; University of Chicago Medical Center; Advocate Christ Medical Center; Swedish Covenant Hospital, and Presence of Our Lady of the Resurrection Medical Center. Only one hospital had gone off bypass as of 6:30 p.m.

“Emergency departments are getting overrun with people with respiratory illness,” said Melaney Arnold, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Public Health. “We are seeing an increase in influenza cases.”

If you’ve had flu for more than two days, Arnold recommended getting rest and drinking lots of fluids rather than going to the emergency room because any treatment would be effective only within 48 hours of getting the flu.

At Rockford Memorial Hospital, which went on bypass at 3:45 p.m. Monday and was still on at 9 p.m., “We don’t have any beds in the house open, they’re all full” because influx of flu patients, spokeswoman Lisa Lund said.

Sonja Vogel, a spokeswoman for West Suburban Medical Center, said a spike in flu patients may have contributed to the decision to go on bypass.

Several of the other hospitals that went on bypass disagreed that their bypass status was because of influenza, though few offered alternative explanations.

“Certainly we’re not on bypass because of flu. We just have a large volume of patients this evening. That is not unusual for a medical center that has over 100,000 patients visits a year.” a spokesman from Advocate Christ Medical Center.

Arnold said 11 hospitals on bypass “is not a good number,” but she noted that those hospitals were spread out over different regions. So patients would have been able to find another hospital close by.

And patients suffering from a severe case, such as stroke, would have been seen at a hospital that was on bypass, Arnold said.

Dr. Jacquelyn Whitten, director of emergency department obstetrics and critical care for Advocate Trinity Hospital ,who was brought into the ER to help with the load of patients, said the ER was packed with people, but nothing that hospitals can’t handle.

“It’s different if you’re somewhere in some crisis and there’s a storm or something that can cut off water supply. Or if this were continuing on for three, four months,” Whitten said. “But that’s not what’s happening here.”

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