As local emergency rooms struggle to keep up with the H1N1 flu pandemic, Wesley Medical Center announced Thursday that it was setting up a flu clinic to divert some of the traffic.
A portion of the hospital's emergency room that had been used as a children's play area has been isolated and is now used exclusively as an area for patients with flu-like symptoms.
"There's no question that our volume has gone up significantly — probably up 15 to 20 percent from where we normally operate," said Mark Mosley, Wesley's emergency department medical director.
"It's certainly the busiest flu season we've seen since 2004."
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The hospital's main campus at Central and Hillside normally handles 150 to 200 patients a day, Mosley said.
"We've been over 200 every single day for the past week," he said.
He said the hospital's west campus at 13th and Tyler Road, normally sees 60 patients a day.
"We're now seeing 70 or 80 a day, and on the weekends, we're pushing 100," he said.
Although the numbers are high in Wichita, Mosley noted that in at least two cities — Memphis, Tenn., and Austin — hospitals have pitched tents outside their emergency rooms that serve as flu clinics.
In Arizona, some hospitals are asking patients with flu-like symptoms to remain outside the emergency rooms and call inside on a red phone. A nurse is then sent out to examine the patients.
Wesley's announcement came as state health officials were receiving the first batches of H1N1 flu vaccine. State health officials expect Kansas to receive about 16,700 doses from the first round of vaccine shipments.
"We're hoping that when people get the vaccine it will help knock this down a bit," Mosley said.
Via Christi Medical Center's emergency rooms don't have flu clinics because patients already are isolated in treatment rooms that are equipped with doors, said Alice Bell, service line director for emergency and trauma services.
Patients visiting the St. Francis and St. Joseph emergency rooms receive flu kits that include masks and hand sanitizers. Similar kits are distributed at Wesley.
"Yes, we are seeing an increase in volumes," Bell said. "It's been a very busy fall very early.... I would guess it's 20 to 25 percent higher than normal.
"And yes, a portion of that is definitely for influenza-like illnesses."
"A very small portion of that number is causing people to be hospitalized."
The emergency room at Galichia Heart Hospital has a plan for isolating patients, but it hasn't had to put the plan into effect, said Steve Harris, the hospital's CEO.
"We're seeing 100 patients a day, and we just haven't seen that many flu patients," he said.
In Kansas, six people who contracted the H1N1 virus have died.