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Flu hits Tri-State area

February 18, 1999|By MARLO BARNHART

The flu has made its way to the Tri-State area, and some hospitals have admitted so many patients that they've had to take extra steps to deal with the situation.

Washington County Hospital in Hagerstown has canceled all elective surgery through the end of this week because of the number of patients admitted with flu and flu-like illnesses.

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"We have an abundance of very sick children, older people and adults here," said Ray Grahe, hospital vice president.

Grahe said hospital officials were trying to handle as much elective surgery as possible at Robinwood, the hospital's other medical campus.

"About a dozen same-day-surgery beds at WCH have been turned into medical beds," Grahe said. Staff has been shifted accordingly.

Grahe said the crunch began about three weeks ago and then subsided. This week, however, the hospital began treating a number of patients with serious pneumonia-like illnesses.

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Hospital spokeswoman Beth Kirkpatrick said that in the past two weeks, flu-like cases and flu-related complications have boosted the number of patients admitted to the hospital to a high of 260 on Wednesday.

"The estimate is that 30-40 percent of those are flu or flu-related with complications like pneumonia," Kirkpatrick said.

On Tuesday, the hospital was on "fly-by" status, meaning that the Maryland State Police helicopter was being routed to other hospitals with trauma cases, Kirkpatrick said.

Bad weather kept the helicopters on the ground Wednesday, so that wasn't a factor, she said.

"Most of our trauma cases come in by land ambulance, and we are still handling them," Grahe said.

In West Virginia, City Hospital in Martinsburg and Jefferson Memorial Hospital in Ranson both reported high patient populations and said the numbers could be attributed in part of the flu.

Neither hospital had been forced to curtail operations to deal with the influx of patients, officials at each said.

Last week, personnel at Jefferson Memorial Hospital treated 98 patients with flu-like symptoms, a spokesperson there said.

Frederick Memorial Hospital in Frederick, Md., also has experienced a heavy load of flu cases in recent months, according to Cheryl Engle, hospital supervisor.

"We've been making constant calls to bring in staff to handle the load," Engle said.

Although she did not have available the numbers of patients treated for flu symptoms, she said there have been more flu patients that in past years.

Officials of Summit Health, with runs both Chambersburg and Waynesboro hospitals, could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.

Jackie Chechowitz, chief nursing officer at the Fulton County Medical Center in McConnellsburg, Pa., said personnel there had seen some patients with the flu, but not a large number.

"What we've had is sporadic illness in our health care workers," Chechowitz said.

She said figures for influenza cases are kept by the infection control nurse, who had already left for the day.

Washington County Hospital's Grahe said the situation is worse than it was this time last year. He said people should see their primary physicians if at all possible when they feel ill.

Grahe and Kirkpatrick stressed that the emergency room is open and operating with a capacity to take care of people in need of medical care.

"The emergency room is open 24 hours a day and will never turn anyone away," Kirkpatrick said.

Staff writers Don Aines, Dave McMillion and Kimberly Yakowski contributed to this story.

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