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Flu Swamps Local Emergency Room

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LAWTON, Okla__ The dreaded flu bug has hit the state of Oklahoma hard.

The state is one of 25 that have reported widespread flu outbreak.

The illness has hit the area so hard that one local hospital is seeing a packed emergency room.

Southwestern Medical Center has seen waiting times soar to as much as three hours. 

Scott Tanner, Director of the Emergency Room, says they handle the overload by following their E. R. protocol.

They go by severity first that's heart attacks, shortness of breaths, and other severe emergencies.

Tanner says they have seen a jump of 20 to 25 more patients a day.

"A lot of like flu type symptoms have shown up.  We treat, if they have been exposed to the flu, looks like the flu, walks like a duck, sounds like a duck, we treat it like the flu," Tanner said.

Tanner says they staff the E. R. to anticipate the rush of patients but when the flu season hits there is little warning, plus the flu is hitting a different age group, adding to the numbers.

A busy E. R. means more work for the staff and less time to unwind.

"No sitting, no lunches, no smoke breaks... You are still taking care of the ones who are going to be here anyway, the ones who come in for pneumonia, the heart attacks, the shortness of breath.  They're still getting them, and on top of this we are having 20 more patients a day," Tanner said.

He says the amount of patients make it difficult to get them from E. R. beds to hospital beds adding to the wait, and also hurting morale of staff, who thrive in a work place that moves quickly.

Long waits don't just affect staff, but patients as well, Tanner did have one tip for those who have less severe medical problems and don't want to be the ones waiting for hours.

"What we always recommend is if they already have a primary care established call the primary care see if they can make it in.  If they don't then they are always welcomed in get seen.  If you feel like you have the flu good hand washing throughout the house, cover your sneezes, try to keep everybody else healthy," Tanner said.

There is another option for medical problems that are less severe but still need to go to the E. R.

Tanner says they have fast track program that goes from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. that will handle small emergencies like sprained ankles, rashes, and colds.

Tanner says the busiest hours for the emergency room are between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m., and wait times before and after those times tend to be much shorter.
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