Hospitals, stretched by flu patients, take extra steps to care for all

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NORTH KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Flu and pneumonia patients are stretching metro hospitals. Intensive care units, in particular, are full or near capacity as the H1N1 flu bug hits especially hard.

Relentless. That's how Moises Guzman describes the deluge of patients in the ICU of North Kansas City Hospital.

"Usually we're busy, but this is rather extreme," said Guzman.

A full ICU has the charge nurse volunteering for extra shifts. He's been here 60 hours a week since November.

"I love what I do, and people are very sick," said Guzman.

Even with staff working extra hours, the hospital has had to bring in contract nurses for critical care. Other units are also at or near capacity.

"We might have to hold patients in the emergency room until we can get patients discharged," said Sarah Fields, the hospital's chief nursing officer.

On Thursday, 49 of the 50 beds in one medical-surgical unit were taken. Carts sit by the doors of patients who have the flu or other contagious diseases and must be isolated.

Gowning, gloving and masking up before seeing those patients takes extra time for staff. That can limit the time they have to get patients ready to go home. It's one reason why a discharge team is in action.

"Today, for example, we have two discharge nurses that are doing nothing but going through and discharging patients," said Fields.

She says when patients are ready to go, rooms can be freed up quicker, sometimes hours quicker, for patients coming in.

North Kansas City Hospital requires all personnel and volunteers to get a flu shot unless they have religious or medical reasons not to. Fields says more than 98 percent have been vaccinated which could help keep more staff on the job instead of home sick.

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