While almost all the New York City cases of confirmed H1N1 flu, commonly referred to as swine flu, have been mild with classic flu-like symptoms that end in a few days, New Yorkers flocked by the thousands to public hospital emergency departments seeking reassurance and help in protecting themselves from illness. From the beginning of the outbreak, HHC served a critical role in the city’s emergency preparedness efforts and put immediate policies in place to ensure patients were cared for, employees remained healthy, and facilities stayed fully staffed to accommodate the expected increase in patient flow.
“We coordinated our emergency preparation and response with local, state, and federal public health authorities, and conducted briefing sessions with administrative and clinical leadership at each of our facilities on a daily basis. HHC also arranged for the immediate delivery of supplemental infection control supplies, including surgical masks and gloves, and ready access to a stockpile of Tamiflu if needed,” said HHC President Alan D. Aviles.
Emergency department staff across HHC were quick to adjust triage protocols and began identifying patients with flu-like symptoms upon arrival to the ED, expediting their evaluation. Such expedited triage prevented having symptomatic patients sitting around in the crowded waiting rooms, potentially exposing others. Other standard infection control practices, like frequent hand-washing and the use of gel sanitizers, were also followed.
Reports from HHC emergency departments indicated that many of the patients visiting the EDs were not ill.
“We are seeing a great influx of worried-well who have no symptoms. Many are afraid and just want to make sure they are not sick,” said Iris Jimenez-Hernandez, Senior Vice President and Executive Director of Woodhull Hospital. “We have many parents bringing in their children and we even had a couple who came straight from the airport to the ED.”
One week into the outbreak, emergency departments in most HHC hospitals were experiencing an average of 100 – 135 more children and adults each day. Lincoln Hospital’s emergency department reported 616 visits on April 30, compared to an average of 450 visits per day. Elmhurst Hospital reported an average increase of 25 percent, with heavier flows to the pediatric ER, which experienced more than 270 children visits compared to a daily average of 145. Pediatric ED visits were also particularly high at Jacobi Hospital, which reported a 37 percent increase, and North Central Bronx, which reported a 51 percent increase in patient visits compared to the week before the outbreak.
“HHC is always on the front line of healthcare, and New Yorkers count on us to deal with the challenges presented by extraordinary times like these. I am proud that every New Yorker can rely on our dedicated staff to ensure that HHC meets the challenge once again,” added Aviles.
For more information about the H1N1 flu, visit the links below:
New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene
Federal update from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)