H1N1 Spurs Scramble For Hospital Beds

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A new study warns that the H1N1 flu may strike as many as 35 percent of Americans. A report by the non-profit group Trust for America's Health found that hospitals in more than a dozen states could run out of beds. Host Liane Hansen speaks to Dr. Robert Galvin, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Public Health, about the measures he's taking to ensure there are hospital beds available in his state this winter.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

A new study warns that the H1N1 flu may strike as many as 35 percent of Americans. And a report by the nonprofit group Trust for America's Health found that hospitals in more than a dozen states could run out of beds. Connecticut is one of those states.

Dr. Robert Galvin is commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Public Health, and he joins us from member station WNPR in Hartford. Welcome, Dr. Galvin.

Dr. ROBERT GALVIN (Commissioner, Connecticut Department of Public Health): You're welcome.

HANSEN: Thank you. So, the study finds Connecticut could exceed its hospital bed supply by 148 percent? Wow. Why is that?

Dr. GALVIN: That is a very large number that appears to be a worst case scenario. And should it be, all those illnesses would not occur simultaneously. Ordinarily, a day-to-day basis, we have approximately 9,500 beds. Those beds as of yesterday, we had 1,600 empty beds. So, the 9,500 beds are not filled all the time.

HANSEN: Right. But only 1,600 were available this week.

Dr. GALVIN: Sixteen hundred. So, if we had to absorb 1,600 all at one time, that's possible. We wouldn't expect that to happen under ordinary circumstances. Each hospital has a plan to expand their bed capacity. And the initial plan starts with cancelling any type of elective procedures - elective surgeries and the like - and opening up beds. So, there is certainly plans in effect to increase the capacity of the institutions.

HANSEN: Are you expecting floods of people in the emergency rooms?

Dr. GALVIN: That's one of the things that we're very concerned about. And we are using every means we can to disseminate information that proceeding directly to the emergency room is not the best way under many circumstances to get care.

But we have our Web site, we have a call-in number so that we can educate people and try to keep them from crowding. And it's the crowding that's the problem in the emergency room - in addition to the waiting - but the crowding predisposes the spreading a respiratory disease.

HANSEN: Have you been able to calculate what the cost to your state would be if there were so many cases of swine flu that the hospitals were virtually full, almost full?

Dr. GALVIN: We can't break that out as a figure. Every year we have lots of people in the hospital with flu, but they also have other problems. If there were a very large influx of patients, the cost would probably end up in the hundreds of millions of dollars. When hospitals run out of spaces that they can create internally, they all have other locations. Now, opening up those facilities is also going to add cost.

HANSEN: Are you treating this any differently, given that the high-risk group are young people and not the elderly?

Dr. GALVIN: Fifty percent of the people with this flu are 24 years of age or less. So, we're dealing with a young population. We're working very closely with the state department of education in Connecticut. We have 900,000 K through 12 students in Connecticut, and we want to get as much vaccine out to the school-age and teenage population as we can.

HANSEN: Dr. Robert Galvin is commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Public Health. He joined us from member station WNPR in Hartford. Thank you, Dr. Galvin.

Dr. GALVIN: You're entirely welcome.

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