In the spring of 2009, the first patients infected with 2009 H1N1 virus were arriving for care in hospitals in the United States. Anticipating a second wave of infection, our hospital leaders initiated multidisciplinary planning activities to prepare to increase capacity by expansion of emergency department (ED) and inpatient functional space and redeployment of medical personnel.
Experience: During the fall pandemic surge, this urban, tertiary-care children's hospital experienced a 48% increase in ED visits and a 12% increase in daily peak inpatient census. However, several strategies were effective in mitigating the pandemic's impact including using a portion of the hospital's lobby for ED waiting, using a subspecialty clinic and a 24-hour short stay unit to care for ED patients, and using physicians not board certified in pediatric emergency medicine and inpatient-unit medical nurses to care for ED patients. The average time patients waited to be seen by an ED physician and the proportion of children leaving the ED without being seen by a physician was less than for the period when seasonal influenza peaked in the winter of 2008-2009. Furthermore, the ED did not go on divert status, no elective medical or surgical admissions required cancellation, and there were no increases in serious patient safety events.
Summary: Our health center successfully met the challenges posed by the 2009 H1N1 outbreak. The intent in sharing the details of our planning and experience is to allow others to determine which elements of this planning might be adapted for managing a surge of patients in their setting.