Flu outbreak forces Columbia hospital to add temporary space

Do your part to stop the spread of flu at home

What actions—apart from getting vaccinated and taking medicine—can you take to help slow the spread of illnesses like the flu?
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What actions—apart from getting vaccinated and taking medicine—can you take to help slow the spread of illnesses like the flu?

An influx of patients sick with the flu in the Midlands has prompted a Columbia-area hospital to add a mobile unit to help with additional patient volume.

Palmetto Health Richland will use a “temporary mobile medical unit” starting Thursday to help expedite patient discharges, said Tammie Epps, spokeswoman for the hospital.

The mobile unit is provided by the Department of Health and Environmental Control’s Midlands Public Healthcare Coalition. Using the unit for patients who are well enough to go home and are in the discharge process frees up hospital beds for new patients.

Similar mobile health units have been installed in other hospitals throughout the United States as the number of patients visiting the emergency room with the flu continues to grow.

“As part of our response, we have initiated visitor restrictions, changed the flow of patients with cold or flu-like symptoms and created additional capacity throughout our hospital system,” the hospital said in a statement.

This flu season, a total of 84 influenza-associated deaths have been reported in South Carolina, according to DHEC. This is the seventh week at widespread activity.

Palmetto Health hospitals, its outpatient facilities and emergency rooms last week began restricting visitors in hopes of curbing the spread of the flu.

The flu is “impacting our entire health care community including all emergency rooms and outpatient care facilities,” said Steve Shelton, emergency room physician and Palmetto Health medical director of Emergency Management. “There are extremely long waits and an overflow of patients. We want to do everything that we can to assist those who are sick and prevent others from becoming sick.”

The restrictions include:

▪  Palmetto Health requests that any visitor who has cold or flu-like symptoms not visit anyone in its facilities.

▪  In addition, the hospital system is restricting anyone younger than 18 years old from visiting. Since children are more likely to get sick and spread the flu, the staff will only allow children under 18 to visit patients in special cases – or with prior approval from the patient’s health care team.

▪  Limiting the number of visitors to two adults per patient at any one time. Limiting the number of visitors per patient also will help control the spread of the illness.

Cynthia Roldán: @CynthiaRoldan