Current Flu Season Is ‘Wreaking Havoc’ On ERs, Forcing Hospitals To Turn Away Sick Patients

Health care professionals warned that the 2012-2013 flu season would be worse than usual, with both a higher incidence of the infection and earlier onset of the flu. The numbers so far have confirmed their predictions — as ThinkProgress reported on Monday, well over half of U.S. states have been experiencing severe influenza activity.

And now Fox News is reporting that emergency rooms in states particularly hard hit by the flu — such as Illinois — are being forced to turn away sick flu patients. 11 Chicago-area hospitals alone are being forced to turn away sick Americans in the face of a particularly nasty flu season and the resulting patient burden:

This year’s predominant flu (76 percent) is very similar to a type that caused a severe season in 2003-2004, when the flu shot wasn’t a good match and there were more than 40,000 associated deaths, said Dr. Marc Siegel, a member of the Fox News Medical A Team. […]

Melaney Arnold, spokeswoman for the Illinois Dept. of Health, said nearly 150 people have been admitted to intensive care units with the flu this season, and five have died.

Northwestern Medical Center in Chicago is one example of a hospital on bypass status. So if you’re in an ambulance because you have the flu, this hospital will have to turn you away. That doesn’t mean people can’t walk in there and still get treatment if they’re OK to do so, but it’s going to be a long wait.

The Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill., reported that its emergency room has up to a three-hour wait, and a Good Samaritan doctor described the situation as “chaotic.”

“It’s not like you can just see them and out the door they go. They’re here for a while unfortunately, getting treatments,” said Dr. Tom Mullin of Good Samaritan. “Most of them we can fortunately discharge them home and treat them as an outpatient. But, it’s wreaking havoc on every emergency department in the city and the suburbs, I’ll tell you that.”

While it’s impossible to completely control an ever-mutating pathogen such as the influenza virus, flu vaccinations have proven to be the number one way to fight the pandemic. Unfortunately, a meager 37 percent of Americans have received their flu shots this year, keeping with low historical averages.

Americans’ reticence towards vaccinations has been a vexing dilemma for public health officials, driven largely by misinformation regarding vaccine safety and fact-free smear campaigns claiming that vaccines such as the HPV shot can result in sexual promiscuity and autism. Access is certainly another part of the equation. Fortunately, Obamacare has expanded free preventative health care services such as vaccinations to make them available to the Americans who previously couldn’t afford that care.