State hospitals ready for influx of H1N1 influenza to hit isles


POSTED: Thursday, October 29, 2009

The state's hospitals have “;well-rehearsed procedures”; and preparations to deal with a sudden increase in H1N1 influenza (swine flu) cases in the islands, say Healthcare Association of Hawaii officials.

President Barack Obama has declared a national emergency to deal with the “;rapid increase in illness”; across the country from H1N1 influenza.

State health officials said this week that they anticipate the mainland's surge of H1N1 influenza to reach here in a few weeks. Hawaii hospitals are focused on preparedness and coordinating efforts with state, county and federal agencies, HAH officials said yesterday.

Concerns now are “;the very slow trickle of vaccine”; into Hawaii and a global shortage of respirators, Toby L. Clairmont, association emergency services director, said in an interview.

A quick survey showed close to half of hospital health care workers haven't received vaccine and they are a priority group, he said.

If many people aren't immunized and get sick, there will be a large demand for health care services, he said. “;If vaccine works, we'll be happy but if it isn't, we have to be ready. I think we're one of the more prepared states in the country but like everyone we have a lot to do.”;

“;I think Hawaii is generally well prepared to handle any surge, from H1N1 or otherwise,”; said George W. Greene, health care association president and chief executive officer.

Greene told the Star-Bulletin this month that 115 organizations in the group's Healthcare Emergency Preparedness Coalition were preparing for a surge of influenza cases likely to emerge in clinics and hospitals.

“;If the current H1N1 pandemic were to cause a sudden and sustained increase (surge) in patients, hospitals would implement well rehearsed procedures designed to free up all available resources to accommodate the increased number of patients,”; the association officials said in a news release.

“;Such procedures could include delaying or canceling elective surgeries, discharging as many patients as safely as possible and opening additional patient care areas within the hospital.”;

Up to six portable hospital modules, called Acute Care Modules, could be deployed if needed, they said.

H1N1 patients would be placed in designated areas to reduce contact with other patients and patients with potential influenza would be segregated when hospitalized for treatment.

Other resources are available if a surge in H1N1 cases exceeds hospital capacity, association officials said.

The health care association has stored medical supplies in strategic locations across the state that can be distributed as needed and Alternate Care Modules (mobile hospitals) are positioned on all major islands. They can be operational within a few hours with all the supplies and equipment needed for acute care.

The state Health Department's Web site, flu.hawaii.gov, lists places that will provide H1N1 vaccine, but people should call to see if it is available, said spokeswoman Janice Okubo.