Flu spike prompts hospitals to enact surge plans, postpone layoffs

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With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting more than double the number of flu cases this season, hospitals are seeing more sick patients. And Boston and New York state have declared public health emergencies.

In the immediate, that means hospital emergency departments are enacting their surge plans to accommodate the extra patients, UPI reported.

Virtua, a four-hospital system in New Jersey, is managing patients outside of the hospital to deal with the volume. Based on an emergency plan set up after Sept. 11, 2001, the surge plan implements segregated waiting areas to fast track patients for minor illnesses.

There's debate if this season is a record breaking one, but MedStar Washington (D.C.) Hospital Center already has seen 179 flu cases, compared to only 20 last year, NPR and Kaiser Health News reported.

"So far, we've been basically on a ramp up for about five weeks, and I'm not sure if we've seen the peak yet," said Bill Frohna, who heads the emergency department. Frohna said both providers and patients are wearing masks to protect themselves and each other.

The uptick in flu activity may mean additional stress on the staff, like Frohna, who says he's losing sleep just thinking about what will happen when a million visitors come to D.C. for the inauguration next week.

Outside of D.C., most states are reporting moderate to severe activity, according to the CDC. Although it means ED crowding and additional strain on staff, the flu is somewhat good news for hospital employees who are keeping their jobs.

Dignity Health System in Ventura County, Calif., delayed layoffs at two of its St. John's hospitals by a month, according to Ventura County Star.

"They figured out that flu season might possibly not be the best time to do a layoff," said Christopher Slane, a representative for Service Employees International Union Local 121 RN.

Health system spokesperson Rita O'Connor told the newspaper, "Consistent with hospitals throughout the country, St. John's hospitals have experienced a seasonal spike in patient volumes and higher acuity patients in recent days, primarily due to the flu season. … We expect this trend to continue throughout the month."

According to CNBC, the increased patient volume and hospitalizations could boost some healthcare profits. Health Management Associates and HCA, especially, could see revenues jump; more than 80 percent of their beds are in states with the highest flu levels.

For more information:
- read the UPI article
- check out the NPR and KHN report
- read the Ventura County Star article
- see the CNBC article

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