Written by Phil Cerroni
By Alice Canham
Perhaps you’ve heard that this was a bad season for the flu? Perhaps that’s an understatement.
According to statistics provided by Dr. Brenda Blain, Chief Nursing Officer/Chief Operating Officer for Baylor Medical Center at Irving, the hospital’s emergency department logged 7,137 visits in December – 27 percent higher than usual for the month.
“It stressed us a lot,” said Blain. “There were some days that we had over 100 people waiting to be seen. Our average daily census is set at 152, but we went up to 220.”
Typically, patients trickle into the emergency department each night, and in the light of day, the department empties out as patients are discharged. But by Jan. 14, faced with this flu-nami, Blain knew they had to try something different. In order to meet the demand, some patients were moved to units throughout the hospital that don’t usually provide beds (so-called ‘virtual beds’).
“I’ve done this in the past,” explained Blain. “We called them hall patients.
“We chose those patients carefully, based on criteria laid out by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO). The staff knew the patients would be safer upstairs than if they were downstairs,” Blain continued. “Everybody was glad to pitch in.”
Still, the stressors were mounting.
“For nurses, the priority is to give excellent patient care that is safe,” Blain said. When they don’t feel they can do this, they get frustrated.”
“We’d had some experience with this back in the H1N1days, the season before last,” added Dr. Steven Davis, the hospital’s Medical Director of Infection Control. “With this strain of flu, we actually started seeing some cases back in November, and we had more than usual in December. We think we peaked in early January.
“And we served all those patients without turning them away. I’m really impressed by our nursing staff.”
In order to serve that larger patient population, the hospital needed more caregivers. Within the Baylor system there is a floating pool of available staff, which provided some relief. Nurses have volunteered to work overtime, and managers have taken on some patients. And even personnel in nearby doctors’ offices were recruited to fill in.
With time, the flood is abating. As of Jan. 18, the census had dropped to 190 – still 40 more patients each day than the recommended limit, but “a manageable roar,” according to Blain.
But from these two professionals, there’s one last piece of advice: Don’t get sick in the first place.
Blain outlined the usual precautions: thoroughly washing your hands, only sneezing or coughing into your elbow to reduce the spread of infection, and staying home when you’re sick.
Meanwhile, Davis emphasized the importance of vaccinations to stave off the infection, each and every October. Baylor-Irving’s staff and physicians are now required to be immunized themselves, in compliance with state law. Inoculations are recommended for small children and pregnant women, the elderly, and the general population.
“The vaccine will last the whole season. You may still get the flu, but it’s usually milder,” said Davis.