As Swine Flu Threat Grows, Health Officials Retool Strategies

September 11, 2009
by Rob Stein
The Washington Post

BALTIMORE -- It was a slow day for Maryland's hospitals. But one Baltimore emergency room and an intensive care unit were already maxed out. And the computer monitor tracking the ER and ICU at a medical center in nearby Washington was flashing yellow and red -- signaling that they, too, had run out room. The next car crash victim would have to go elsewhere; the next heart attack patient risked losing precious minutes before getting life-saving treatment.

As the second wave of H1N1 infections begins in the United States, scenes like this from the command center of the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems have federal, state and local health authorities nationwide scrambling. Even if the swine flu remains a mild infection, the pandemic could be the tipping point for an emergency medical system already teetering on the edge.

"The worry is the health-care delivery system could be overwhelmed by people who are sick or think they are sick," said Kim Elliott of Trust for America's Health, a nonpartisan think tank and advocacy group.

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