Swamped with flu, Atlanta hospital opens mobile ER

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The mobile ER outside Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta opened Tuesday morning, to help handle a surge in ER visits to one of the Southeasts busiest emergency departments.

From the outside, it looks like a tent. From the inside, it looks like a real ER.

On loan from a Charlotte hospital, "Carolinas MED-1," has 12 patient bays, medical equipment, a nurses station, and badly needed space. 

"This is the first time we've done this, and this is the only unit available like it in the country," Dr. Hany Atallah, Chief of Emergency Medicine at Grady Health System, says.

The emergency department here is seeing a 25 percent increase in visits.

On a couple of recent days, Atallah says, they've treated more than 500 patients.

"You're really trying to keep up the best you can," Atallah says.  "You're trying to get to everyone as quick as you can, and we feel that our patients deserve it."

The portable unit is set up just outside the ambulance bays at the foot of Grady Hospital.

Patients will check in first in the main ED and then be escorted to the unit.

"They'll be triaged quickly, registered into our system,  and if there is space available, they'll be seen in the emergency department," Dr. Atallah says. "And if there is no space available, we'll bring them over quickly."

The H3N2 flu making most people sick can cause more severe flu,  which may be driving the surge of people coming to the ER.

 But here at Grady, Dr. Atallah says most of the patients they're seeing don't actually have the flu.

"It's not that we're not seeing patients with flu, we certainly are," he says.  "But we're also seeing a lot of the colds and runny noses, where people think they may have the flu."

Then, there are the extreme temperatures Atlanta has been experiencing this winter.

"We're seeing things like frostbite and some patients coming in with very severe hypothermia," Dr. Atallah says.

No matter where you live, your local emergency room is probably packed.  So, if your symptoms are mild -- you may be better off staying home -- getting rest and plenty of fluids.

"Certainly, if you don't feel well and you think something may be seriously wrong, we're here for you and available 24/7 to take care of you," Dr. Atallah says.

Grady is hoping to be able to treat 100 to 150 patients with flu-like illness over in the mobile ER. The hope is it will take some of the pressure off the emergency department.