ACEP calls for flu summit, outlines six-point plan

The nation’s leading group of emergency physicians is calling for a crisis summit to prevent a potential public heath disaster this flu season.

"As frontline providers in the U.S. health care system, emergency physicians know that patients will needlessly die unless swift action is taken to provide some relief to an emergency care health care system that is already stretched beyond its limits," said Brian Hancock, immediate-past president of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP). "[We] must convene a crisis summit of key federal agencies, nongovernmental agencies, and patient advocacy groups to establish contingency plans for the upcoming flu season. The goal of this process must be to ensure that every American who falls seriously ill during the upcoming flu season has access to safe, quality, and effective emergency care."

In addition to a conference, ACEP outlined six steps that must be taken immediately due to existing overcrowding in emergency departments (EDs) and lack of sufficient flu vaccine nationally:

1. Public health officials should ensure that emergency care and critical care providers (EMS, nurses, physicians, and ancillary staff involved in direct patient care) are immunized so they aren’t stricken in the midst of a national epidemic.

2. End the practice of boarding admitted patients in the ED when no inpatient beds are available. This may require hospitals operating at full capacity to distribute boarded patients to inpatient hallways, solariums, admission units, and other spaces outside the ED, but this is preferable to packing seriously ill flu patients together in the hallways of an ED. "We should demand a zero tolerance for boarded patients. We cannot pack our [EDs] with seriously ill influenza spreading the disease to other patients in the hallways," Hancock said.

3. Implement regional protocols to monitor hospital inpatient and ED capacity, as well as ambulance diversion status.

4. Adopt regional protocols to govern when, how, why, and for how long overloaded hospital EDs can divert inbound ambulances. "Everywhere must play by the same rules," he added.

5. Require hospitals and communities that are severely affected by influenza to postpone elective admissions until the crisis has abated.

6. Provide federal and state emergency funding to compensate hospitals and EDs for the unreimbursed costs of meeting this grave public health challenge.