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Residents advised to receive flu shots

Washington County Hospital has been on red and yellow alerts the last two days because of a shortage of beds caused by patients

Washington County Hospital has been on red and yellow alerts the last two days because of a shortage of beds caused by patients

December 31, 2002|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

TRI-STATE - Faced with a second day of beds being full at Washington County Hospital, Dr. Tom Gilbert had some advice Monday for young and old: Get a flu shot.

"We've had some pneumonia and some heart attacks but we are seeing more than the usual number of people with flu-like symptoms," said Gilbert, director of the hospital's emergency room.

Continued shortages of available space forced officials to declare red and yellow alerts Sunday. The alert was downgraded to a red alert midday Monday and lifted at 9:45 p.m. Monday.

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A red alert means there is a shortage of staffed and monitored hospital beds. A yellow alert means there is a shortage of emergency room beds.

"The flu and pneumonia shots are a good idea for older people and for those whose immune systems are compromised," Gilbert said.

Washington County Health Department spokesman Rod MacRae said earlier flu clinics were poorly attended. But he added there will be one more clinic next week.

The final clinic of the season is Tuesday, Jan. 7, from 3 to 7 p.m. at Williamsport Red Men Lodge 84, located at 16129 Lappans Road, MacRae said. It is for anyone 18 and older.

For those younger than 18, a call to 240-313-3210 is required.

MacRae said an $8 donation is requested, or Medicare can be billed. Those who are Medicare-eligible should bring their Medicare cards, MacRae said.

Transportation is available for those 60 and older by calling the Commission on Aging at 301-790-0275, ext. 221. A 48-hour notice is required.

Compounding the problem has been a surge in "stomach flu" patients, Gilbert said.

"The very young and the very old can get dehydrated very quickly, so this can be serious," he said.

Customarily, such patients are kept in a bed for five to six hours while they are given intravenous fluids and then they are sent home, Gilbert said.

"But for those five to six hours, they are taking up a bed even though they are most likely not going to be admitted," he said.

Hospital officials stressed no patients in need of immediate care are turned away during red and yellow alerts.

Gilbert said the hospital devised the system two years ago by which patients requiring emergency care during a yellow alert are routed to other area hospitals.

Teresa McCabe, spokesman for City Hospital in Martinsburg, W.Va., said a number of patients who would have gone to Washington County Hospital in the past few days have been diverted to City Hospital.

"We're at capacity here at City but we're not on any kind of alert or fly-by status," McCabe said Monday afternoon.

McCabe said the emergency room at City Hospital has been seeing a lot of patients with flu-like symptoms but most have been treated and released.

"There haven't been many admissions," McCabe said.

Hospitals in Franklin County, Pa., Waynesboro, Pa., and Chambersburg, Pa., were also feeling the effects of the seasonal increase in minor illnesses.

"On Monday, we saw a high number of gastrointestinal patients but not so many with flu-like symptoms," said Dr. Kathryn Reihard, an emergency room staff physician at Waynesboro Hospital.

"We don't have a policy of alert here at Waynesboro Hospital," Reihard said, although she said there have been times when nearly all beds were filled.

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