Flu Vaccine Shortage Could Lead to Additional Financial Problems for Emergency Departments
The Los Angeles Times on Thursday examined how the U.S. flu vaccine shortage "poses a new set of medical and financial challenges" for emergency departments in Los Angeles County "as flu patients jam hospitals along with more seriously ill people."
Some county hospital administrators have raised concerns that a severe flu season could lead to additional overcrowding and financial problems for EDs, which treat a large percentage of patients without health insurance. According to the Times, the flu season is the "busiest time of the year" for EDs.
Some of the 75 EDs in the county have sought to address potential problems related to the flu season with plans to add employees in December and modify triage procedures to ensure that seriously ill patients receive treatment first. In addition, some county EDs have increased physician hours from four to eight hours per day.
County health officials have said that there was "no indication that this flu season would be any worse than normal" and that "it was too early to tell" whether the vaccine shortage would lead to more cases of flu, the Times reports.
Frederick Carr, director of the ED at Little Company of Mary Hospital, said that the hospital has implemented a separate area to admit flu patients. Carr said, "Emergency rooms in L.A. County are at a breaking point now. This is the slow season. People are already having long waits. Some are being seen in the hallways. There's no margin for error."
Jonathan Fielding, director of county public health programs, said the effect of flu on EDs this year will depend on whether county health officials can administer the flu vaccine doses that remain to individuals at high risk for the illness. Fielding also said that individuals with minor respiratory problems should seek care at physician offices rather than EDs.
In related news, officials for Suburban Medical Center on Wednesday announced plans to convert the hospital ED into an urgent care center and said that the hospital next year will no longer accept ambulance calls because of financial problems. Eight county EDs have closed over the last 18 months (Pierson, Los Angeles Times, 10/21).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.