Aiken Regional expands flu isolation area

AIKEN --- Aiken Regional Medical Centers has expanded its isolated flu area for those with H1N1 symptoms after seeing a surge of patients Saturday and Monday.

"We had 17 patients that arrived within a four-hour period (Monday), and so that's what really prompted us to go to our next level," said Kathy Robey Williams, an administrative director of clinical operations for Aiken Regional. "... We took half of our minor care area and made that the other addition, and that's sort of our phase two plan. If we get to the point where that becomes overrun, then we will actually shut down our minor care area completely for regular patients, and it will become completely a flu area."

Hospital officials were urging calm.

"We don't want to create a panic with the news that we've had more people come in, because nobody's been hospitalized," said Melissa Summer, a spokeswoman for the hospital.

Hospital officials say the goal is simply to keep those with the flu separated from regular patients and staff.

Monday's expansion to nine beds more than doubled the hospital's flu patient area, which is kept separate from the general patient population. Aiken Regional had its first influx Aug. 19, when 17 patients were seen. The numbers then varied until Saturday, when the hospital saw 24 patients exhibiting symptoms.

Aiken Regional officials say that when a patient enters the ER, he or she is quickly assessed. If H1N1 symptoms appear, the patient is moved to the isolated area for treatment.

"I think one of the things that we think may be contributing to this (recent influx) is schools require kids to have a doctor's note," Ms. Williams said, adding that there also has been "a bit of a panic mode about this" among some.

Ms. Williams said those who might have H1N1 would be better off staying home and riding it out.

So far, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control says the state has documented more than 500 H1N1 cases.

On Monday, the department announced its first H1N1-associated death -- that of a Midlands child who had serious underlying health problems before contracting H1N1.

On Wednesday, the last time the count was updated, Georgia had recorded four deaths, according to the Georgia Division of Public Health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had recorded 556 deaths in the U.S. and its territories from the novel influenza A H1N1 virus as of Thursday.

Staff Writer Tom Corwin contributed to this article.

Reach Preston Sparks at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or preston.sparks@augustachronicle.com.