At Loma Linda University Medical Center near San Bernardino, emergency room workers have set up a tent in the parking lot to handle a crush of similar patients. In Chicago, ER visits at the city's biggest children's hospital are double normal levels, setting records at the 121-year-old institution.I can't help but wonder what this situation would look like if patients had a personal primary care doctor they could go to or call or e-mail, instead of going to the ER.
So far, few of the anxious patients have had more than runny noses. But the widening outbreak of swine flu, also known as H1N1 flu, is exposing a potentially critical hole in the nation's defenses.
Across the country, emergency care facilities are straining at the seams even though the outbreak is relatively small and the federal government has launched a mammoth disease-control effort -- dispatching antiviral drugs to states, attempting to contain the limited number of cases and beginning to develop a vaccine against it.
"It is a major Achilles' heel in our state of readiness," said Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University. "If we get a situation that is really out of hand with large numbers of people affected, I fear that our hospital and healthcare facilities simply won't have the materials or even the staffing to respond," he said.
Hey, you know that impending health care collapse that they've been talking about for years? Maybe there's some connection with that and the shortage of primary care doctors. Ya think?