Mercy Hospital Ada officials confirmed Friday the facility is experiencing a high volume of patients — in both admissions and the emergency room.
“Mercy Ada is experiencing an extremely high volume of critically ill patients,” emergency department physician Ty Phillipson said. “This is not attributed to one specific illness, but a variety of illnesses.”
Phillipson said the illnesses range from critical illnesses such as strokes and heart attacks to non-urgent illnesses such as a mild cough, congestion or patients presenting flu-like symptoms.
“We are not alone, as hospitals state wide are experiencing high volumes of emergency department visits,” Phillipson said. “We strongly encourage patients with mild symptoms to utilize their primary care provider or an urgent care facility.”
Phillipson’s advice is consistent with recommendations from the Oklahoma State Department of Health, where officials said patients with flu-like symptoms often overwhelm hospital emergency rooms during flu season.
Mercy Hospital Ada Emergency Department Manager Tammy Bridgeman said the hospital received a high volume of patients in a short period of time Thursday. Bridgeman said the hospital must treat each patient based on the symptoms presented upon arrival.
“It is our goal at Mercy to treat all patients who walk into the emergency department in a timely manner,” Bridgeman said. “Extended wait times may occur, based on the number of patients and the types of illnesses involved.”
Tracking the flu
OSDH Public Information Officer Jamie Dukes said the agency has only recorded two hospitalizations for influenza in Pontotoc County with no deaths so far, but those numbers may not reveal the full scope of the virus’ rate of infection.
“We track hospitalizations and deaths because there are so many illnesses out there that simulate the flu. It’s hard to track the flu itself,” Dukes said Monday by phone.
In neighboring Pottawatomie County, OSDH has recorded 19 hospitalizations. Pottawatomie County is part of the agency’s central region, which has recorded a total of 91 hospitalizations and three deaths attributable to influenza. In the southeast region, which includes Pontotoc County and the city of Ada, the agency has recorded a total of 26 hospitalizations with no deaths from influenza.
Statewide, OSDH has recorded 602 hospitalizations and 13 deaths attributable to influenza this flu season, but Dukes said she expects those numbers to climb in the coming months.
“January is commonly known as the peak part of the season, so we’re just now starting to see bigger numbers,” Dukes said. “Flu season can run all the way through the end of May. A lot of people come down with (flu and flu-like) illnesses over the holidays, when they’re with their families and other people in enclosed spaces. That’s how it spreads.”
Last year, during the 2016-2017 flu season, OSDH recorded 2,400 hospitalizations and 110 deaths attributable to influenza. Dukes said she expects to see similar numbers for the 2017-2018 flu season. OSDH officials said so far, they are not seeing higher-than-expected numbers of hospitalizations or deaths from influenza this season.
What to do if you think you have the flu
OSDH and Mercy officials recommend patients who believe they may have the flu contact their primary care provider or visit an urgent care facility before going to the emergency room. OSDH epidemiologists said there is little a hospital emergency room can do for patients who are not considered to be at a high risk of contracting the flu — patients who are not suffering from chronic respiratory or lung ailments. The flu is most commonly treated with fluids, over-the-counter remedies and rest.
Dukes said OSDH recommends anyone who believes they have come down with the flu to stay home until they have gone 24 hours without a fever or the need for fever-reducing medications. In the meantime, OSDH epidemiologists said, stay hydrated, rest and treat the symptoms of the flu with over-the-counter medications to reduce headaches, coughs, congestion and fever.