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Flu season, lack of insurance, swamp ERs

January 18, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
If you're suffering from cold and flu symptoms, you're not alone. Local emergency rooms are busy - even jammed - with patients desperate for relief. It's a growing problem facing local trauma centers.Cold and flu season is never much fun for the people who get sick, but it's turning out to be a real drain on emergency rooms. More and more people these days don't have health insurance, which means they don't have their own personal doctors, and they're ending up at places like Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills, which has seen a 27 percent jump in its emergency room visits.

The runny nose, the aches and pain, and the crowded waiting rooms -- that is what hospital emergency departments deal with during cold and flu season these days thanks to a growing number of uninsured patients.

"Here, we see a lot more people who don't have insurance right now," said Dr. Ricky Bush of Olympia Medical Center. "The lack of insurance can be quite a hindrance to medical care in the community. It's really hard to get an appointment, it's hard to go to other places if you don't insurance or money up front. So the emergency department is a last resort."

Dr. Bush is the associate director of the ER. To deal with the increased patient load, Olympia established what it calls the Door to Doctor Program. It essentially steals a page from the pizza industry.

"We have a 30 minute guarantee," said Dr. Bush.

Patients have 30 minutes or less to get treated, or the hospital ponies up for your co-pay.

"It's been very successful, and we've reached about a 90 percent success rate with that thus far," said Dr. Marla Barsass of Olympia Medical Center.

Dr. Barsass says it's so successful, other hospitals are considering adopting the program.

At Olympia, staffers were expecting a larger-than-usual influx of cold and flu patients that has yet to materialize. But other L.A. medical centers are reporting higher-than-usual numbers.

Most, though, can get by with the basic over-the-counter medicine -- and common sense.

"If you're sick, try to take care of yourself, get enough rest," said Dr. Bush. "Do the things that you know you're supposed to do. Those other things that you know you're not supposed to be doing -- smoking, drinking, not eating correctly, not getting enough rest -- they'll catch up with you, so you have to take care of yourself."

Doctors say if you have the cold or flu, drink plenty of liquids and get lots of rest. To avoid getting the flu in the first place, wash your hands regularly, and avoid touching your eyes and your nose.


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