This year's severe flu season is doing more than just making people sick.
It's putting a serious strain on health providers.
Now local health professionals are asking patients to think twice before taking trips to the emergency room.
"Most patients that come to the emergency room aren't emergencies," said Dr. Cory Slovis, the director of emergency management at Vanderbilt Medical Center.
At Maury Regional Medical Center they've been overwhelmed.
"Very tough month," said Maury Regional CEO Alan Watson.
On one particular day, they had 181 patients check in, 15 at the same time, and that was when all 34 of their rooms were already full.
"Fortunately, we didn't have to put tents in the parking lot like some of the hospitals in the northeast did, but we did have to treat patients in the hallway of the ED," said Watson.
It's making their employees sick to boot.
"We had a couple pay periods where we had over 200 staff members calling in sick in a shift," said Watson.
Their message is clear: if it's a true emergency, by all means come in, but if it's a chronic illness or something treatable like early symptoms of the flu, don't.
"If you have a primary care physician please use your primary care physician. If you don't have a primary care physician let us know and we'll help you find one," said Watson.
At larger hospitals like Vanderbilt, they've been lucky this year, but Slovis was quick to say they aren't immune.
"Unfortunately the emergency rooms around town and around the country are getting overwhelmed by people seeking routine medical care," said Slovis.
The prognosis for that is much worse than the common flu.
"The problem is that too many people have to wait for care. If you're not an emergency then you have to wait a few hours, but if you are an emergency and you have to wait a few hours, you could suffer," said Slovis.
Doctors at Maury Regional plan to start educating chronically ill patients about what isn't an emergency and helping them find primary care physicians.
Remember that the flu can be deadly, so if you're dehydrated, having trouble breathing, moving, or thinking, those are signs you do need emergency care.
Flu patients with heart or lung diseases, the very young and the elderly should also seek immediate care.
Copyright 2013 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.
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