Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times | Terms of Service | Privacy Policy

Flu gives ER big headaches

Jackson Bell

Burbank firefighters and paramedics have responded to a higher-than-

usual number of calls from locals reporting flu symptoms, which in

turn has overwhelmed local hospital emergency rooms.


With the number of reported flu cases on the rise, and more and

more and patients seeking emergency medical attention, Providence St.

Joseph Medical Center and other area hospitals have had to turn away

patients transported by paramedics because they have reached their


capacity, Burbank Fire Marshal Dave Starr said.

Fire trucks and ambulances have been adversely affected because

they have to take patients to the nearest available hospital when a

local hospital’s emergency rooms is closed to paramedic drop-offs,

Starr said. Given the latest flu scare, rescue vehicles often travel

to hospitals in Pasadena or Tarzana, he said.

“When we take in people with serious problems, [paramedics] can’t

get to them immediately,” he said. “And it’s slowing down the


ambulance response time because it’s taking longer to complete the

calls from the backlog at the emergency room.”

Media reports of fatal flu cases and short supplies of vaccines

have contributed to the overcrowding at local hospitals, along with

people who either don’t understand the health-care system or

purposely abuse it, Starr said.

“The 911 system, emergency transports and emergency rooms are

designed to deal with major illnesses and trauma, and instead they


are backlogged with more routine medical cases,” he said. “People

should be going through the system another way.”

Providence St. Joseph Medical Center has seen an increase in

emergency room patients from about 150 to 200 on weekdays, and from

about 160 to about 230 on weekends, said Stephen Kishineff, an

emergency room physician.

Physicians can administer antiviral medicine if the flu has been

contracted within 24 hours, but more patients don’t seek medical help

until they’ve had it for at least two days, Kishineff said. At that

point, physicians can’t do more than recommend patients take

over-the-counter cough medicine, drink lots of fluid and rest five to

seven days.

“We are sending home the vast majority of people with the flu

because we don’t have much to offer them,” he said.