NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Hospitals across the region are dealing with a critical care bed shortage. This year's aggressive flu season is one of the big reasons why.
Ochsner emergency medicine physician Dr. Jeffrey Kuo says this year's flu season is unprecedented.
"I think that the entire region, and in fact the entire country, is under similar circumstances where urgent cares and emergency departments are inundated with patients. There are prolonged wait times," said Kuo.
So many people are coming in with flu-like symptoms, hospitals across the country, including here locally, are dealing with that critical care bed shortage.
"We are not immune to that by any means at Ochsner, however, that goes for all of the hospitals within the region, Ochsner and non-Ochsner. And so what's happening is there's so many patients coming into the emergency department, so many patients having to be admitted, that there is just a critical care bed shortage. And so a lot of the patients that require hospitalization are having to hold in the emergency departments because there are no beds available," said Kuo.
That's why medical providers are urging patients to call their primary care physician first to find out if they really need to be seen in person. Doctors say many times a diagnosis can be made over the phone and a flu test isn't always necessary. This will also help prevent the spread of the virus.
"Patients don't necessarily need to go to an urgent care or the emergency department when they have flu-like symptoms, simply because for the most part, these patients can provide self-care to themselves at home," said Kuo.
New Orleans doctor Brobson Lutz is also concerned, especially about the number of obituaries he's seen lately.
"I can never remember seven pages of obituaries in one day's paper," said Lutz. "There is no doubt in my mind that we are seeing some excess mortality in this community related to the influenza virus that is circulating now along with the cold weather. I think it will probably be weeks or months until the epidemiology is all settled out and becomes clearer."
Doctors still recommend getting the flu shot to protect yourself and staying home if you're sick.
If you think you have the flu, Ochsner says you can call their hotline at 1-800-231-5257 OR 504-842-3155. It's staffed 24-7 and they can help you determine whether an emergency room or doctor's visit is needed. They can also give you advice on how to treat your symptoms at home.