Swine flu pandemic: Prepared for the worst


POSTED: Friday, October 02, 2009

A national study lists Hawaii among 15 states that could run out of hospital beds during the peak of a swine flu outbreak, but local health industry officials say it does not take into account years of disaster preparations in the islands.

Trust for America's Health based its report, “;H1N1 Challenges Ahead,”; on 35 percent of Americans potentially becoming sick from the H1N1 influenza (swine flu) virus.

Using FluSurge data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the organization estimated 6,410 islanders could require hospitalization for the H1N1 virus, filling 66 percent of the state's hospital beds.

“;I would like to see the information validated by the CDC before getting too worked up about it,”; said George Greene, president and chief executive of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii.

“;We do have an overall disaster preparedness plan in place in the state,”; he said, adding that the association, representing all Hawaii hospitals and health care providers, has worked on the plan with county, state, federal and private agencies.

“;We have planned for most, if not all, possible contingencies and scenarios,”; including disasters from earthquakes and hurricanes to flu pandemics, he said.





        The Hawaii Medical Service Association is offering every resident one online care visit at no cost “;to keep people healthy,”; said HMSA spokeswoman Laura Lott.

The cost normally is $45 for a 10-minute visit for nonmembers and $10 co-pay for HMSA members.


Accessing a doctor or medical information online is a good alternative to going to a doctor's office, Lott said, pointing out people who are sick do not feel like driving in traffic, parking and waiting. “;It's a great way to not risk infecting others or becoming infected.”;


Log in on and use the access code “;Flu.”;




H1N1 is considered a fairly mild strain of flu. Of 10 Hawaii deaths linked with the virus since May 5, eight had underlying medical problems, according to the Health Department.

State health and hospital officials are emphasizing public education to avoid overwhelming hospitals, clinics and doctors' offices unnecessarily. Part of the program is “;to educate people on an appropriate place for care if they believe they are infected,”; Greene said.

State Health Director Chiyome Fukino said the department has been talking to physicians and community health centers. “;I think doctors have a much better understanding that at a time of emergency there have to be changes in the way we normally practice.”;

Elective procedures probably will have to be postponed when hospitals are full, she said, “;and we probably will be looking at more care to be delivered in home settings. Any system, no matter how well prepared, can be overcome by high volume. We all expect that.”;

She said larger clinics may have to be held to distribute vaccines and medications, “;and we will have to do a lot of answering questions for the worried well”; so they do not show up in emergency rooms.

“;If we provide access to reasonable information in a timely fashion, that will go a long way in helping the public understand what they can do to protect themselves and stay healthy,”; Fukino said.

Hawaii hospitals generally are crowded, largely because of long-term care patients ready for discharge with no place to put them in the community.

“;You can't reserve 20 percent of beds,”; Fukino pointed out. “;It's not cost- effective.”;

However, she said, the Healthcare Association's Emergency Management Program has placed 20-bed portable hospital systems on all islands, as well as caches of prepackaged equipment, beds and supplies for alternate care sites.

Toby Clairmont, Healthcare Association of Hawaii emergency program manager, is in American Samoa as leader of the Hawaii Medical Disaster Assistance Team. But he told the Star-Bulletin last year, “;Whenever the Department of Health or anyone says we've got a bunch of sick people and we need to set up something at a school, mall or the convention center, we have all the material prepackaged.”;