Flu update: How Cleveland Clinic and others are handling high patient volumes

An influx of flu patients are flocking to hospitals amid a particularly severe flu season, straining hospitals' resources, space and staff members.

The CDC on Jan. 19 reported widespread flu activity in every state in the continental U.S., with a majority of cases attributable to the H3N2 strain. Health experts estimate this season's flu vaccine is only about 30 percent effective against this viral strain.

Here's how seven hospitals nationwide are managing increased patient volumes during the severe flu season.

1. Cleveland Clinic and its regional hospitals have admitted 933 patients with flu symptoms as of Jan. 23, representing the largest inpatient number since the 2014-15 flu season. The health system is encouraging patients with nonemergency flu symptoms to stay home and use its telemedicine service, Cleveland Clinic Express Care Online, for treatment. So far, Cleveland Clinic has treated 191 flu patients via telemedicine this season.

2. To keep up with high patient volumes, Palm Beach Gardens (Fla.) Medical Center is transforming other patient care spaces in the facility to accommodate sick patients.

"Sometimes that means hallway beds in the emergency department or other spaces like conference rooms, larger areas where we can accommodate people," Jaime Snarski, MD, an emergency medicine physician at the medical center, told CBS 12.

3. Lehigh Valley Health Networkset up tents outside the main emergency room at both its Allentown and Bethlehem, Pa-based campuses. The 12-bed, fully equipped tents serve as a mobile surge hospital for flu patients, according to ABC 6.

"We've put it into operation a couples times now over the last few days," a hospital spokesperson told Time last week. "I think [Jan. 16] we saw upwards of about 40 people in the tent itself."

4. Birmingham, Ala.-based UAB Hospital canceled elective surgeries earlier this month to free up more beds for flu patients.

"We had to treat patients in places where we normally wouldn't, like in recovery rooms," Bernard Camins, MD, associate professor of infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, told Time. "The emergency room was very crowded, both with sick patients who needed to be admitted and patients who just needed to be seen and given Tamiflu."

5. Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center is one of many hospitals implementing visitor restrictions to limit further spread of the flu. The health system implemented a temporary restriction on patient visits from children age 14 and under or anyone with flu symptoms. "This measure is to prevent unnecessary spread of influenza and to protect you, our patients and our staff," the health system posted on Facebook Jan. 10.

6. Fenton, Mo.-based SSM Health St. Clare Hospital opened its emergency overflow wing, all outpatient centers and surgical holding centers to house flu patients. The hospital has also pulled nurses from other floors to care for patients and is offering the caregivers an increased hourly rate to work overtime, according to St. Clare Nurse Jennifer Braciszewski, RN. Yet the hospital is still short-handed on staff members, as many nurses have also gotten the flu, she told Time.

7. Officials at Gastonia, N.C.-based CaroMont Regional Medical Center told the Gaston Gazette the hospital has seen a "record number" of acutely ill patients come through their emergency department who require hospital admission. The hospital has increased staffing in both the ED and upper floors amid the higher patient volumes. As space is very limited in the hospital, CaroMont Regional may need to reschedule elective surgeries to ensure they can admit and treat sick patients.

"While we are not actively rescheduling surgeries at this time, we are monitoring patient volume and flow in the hospital and working with our medical staff leadership to consider all options," Todd Davis, MD, CaroMont Health executive vice president and CMO, told the Gaston Gazette.

More articles on infection control: 
Study: Flu increases risk of heart attack sixfold 
Mysterious polio-like illness likely caused by enterovirus strain, study finds 
Flu outbreak forces Illinois high school to close — 24% of staff sickened

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