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Format: 04/25/2014
Format: 04/25/2014


Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: Obama declares swine flu crisis

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

By Jodi Weigand


President Obama declared the swine flu outbreak a national emergency, giving his health chief the power to let hospitals move emergency rooms offsite to speed treatment and protect noninfected patients.

The declaration, signed Friday night and announced Saturday, was made with the disease more prevalent than ever in the country and production delays undercutting the government's initial, optimistic estimates that as many as 120 million doses of the vaccine could be available by mid-October.

Health authorities say more than 1,000 people in the United States, including almost 100 children, have died from the strain of flu known as H1N1, and 46 states have widespread flu activity. So far only 11 million doses have gone out to health departments, doctor's offices and other providers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials.

Administration officials said the declaration was a pre-emptive move designed to make decisions easier when they need to be made. Officials said the move was not in response to any single development.

Pittsburgh's hospital systems say they won't alter their strategies for dealing with the H1N1 flu virus in light of the national emergency declaration, which gives Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius the authority to bypass federal rules when opening alternative care sites, such as offsite hospital centers at schools or community centers if hospitals seek permission.

Hospitals could modify patient rules — for example, requiring them to give less information during a hectic time — to quicken access to treatment, with government approval, under the declaration.

"I'm not aware of any plans to do that at this point," said Dan Laurent, spokesman for the West Penn Allegheny Health System. Laurent said he is part of a group that meets regularly to discuss the hospital's response to the swine flu outbreak, and setting up a separate emergency room for H1N1 patients has never been discussed, he said.

UPMC emergency room physician Dr. Joseph Suyama said each UPMC facility has a plan in place to expand to external structures or offer alternative care such as triage.

"Just because the declaration was issued doesn't mean we're going to open a tent," he said. "We are allowing each hospital to determine their particular need."

H1N1, declared a public health emergency earlier in the year, has put more than 20,000 in the hospital since it emerged earlier this year, the CDC said. Swine flu has hit young adults and children the hardest, while seasonal flu normally is more dangerous for people over age 65.

To read more, visit the Tribune-Review web site.

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