2009-09-04 / Top Stories

City Outlines Plans To Prepare For Flu Season

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg today announced that this fall and winter, the City will offer free flu mist and flu shots for H1N1 to elementary school students whose parents want them to receive it; encourage New Yorkers to protect themselves and their loved ones by getting flu shots or flu mist for H1N1 and seasonal flu; help people with influenza-like illness manage their symptoms and find care; work with hospitals to ensure the availability of expanded emergency room capacity if it is needed; and designate primary-care clinics as "flu centers" that can give flu shots, information and outpatient care. These recommendations are the result of the work performed by 15 interagency working groups that have been meeting throughout the summer.

Additionally, the City will track rates of influenza-like illness and the different types of influenza viruses that are circulating; post daily and weekly updates on the City's new influenza web portal; provide a daily public report listing all schools reporting five or more cases of influenza like illness; and launch an influenza-prevention campaign that includes signs, posters and classroom instruction. Also, as part of a new NYC Service initiative, hundreds of Flu Fighters will visit senior centers, houses of worship, schools and other places to spread the word about seasonal flu and the importance of getting vaccinated against it.

Neither the seasonal virus nor the H1N1 virus is expected to cause unusually severe illness, but the sheer volume of cases could tax hospital emergency departments as people with symptoms seek information, reassurance and treatment. The plans that City officials outlined today are designed to guide New Yorkers toward appropriate sources of care, while ensuring that care is always available to those who most need it.

Here are some of the measures the City and its partners are pursuing to ensure the city's readiness:

Guide patients to appropriate sources of care. Hospital emergency departments saw large increases in patient volume during the H1N1 outbreak of spring 2009. Very few of these patients with influenza symptoms required hospital care, but many sought care in emergency departments because they lacked other alternatives or simply lacked awareness of them. This fall, the Health Department will work with the Health and Hospitals Corporation, the Greater New York Hospital Association and the City's Office of Emergency Management to ensure that people with influenza-like illness know how to manage their symptoms, when to seek care, and where to find it. City agencies will distribute posters, flyers and informational materials to health-care providers and other community partners, and will use outdoor and radio advertising to raise public awareness.

Develop alternate treatment

sites. To avoid overburdening hospital emergency departments, the City is developing a range of other venues for influenza treatment. If necessary, some hospitals will expand their emergency departments into nearby areas to accommodate influenza patients if demand rises. The Health and Hospitals Corporation will designate some of its community-based primary-care clinics as "flu centers," where New Yorkers can get vaccination, information and outpatient care. And some 60 federally qualified health centers will provide outpatient care for people without health insurance. In an emergency, the health centers would also dispense free antiviral medication.

Create a one-stop influenza web portal. The City is expanding its one-stop influenza web portal (www.nyc.gov/flu). Beginning in October it will feature a locator - searchable by borough or zip code - that anyone can use to find the nearest source of non-emergency care. The site will also feature a pharmacy finder.

Provide telephone nurse consultation through 311. Any New Yorker can get flu-related information and educational materials by calling 311. During an influenza emergency, the City would use the same system to connect concerned patients with a medical call center staffed by trained nurses. Before visiting any health care facility, a caller could consult with a nurse to determine whether additional services were needed. If so, the on-call nurse would direct the patient to the nearest and most appropriate setting. The City has not yet contracted for this service, but the Health Department has approved a plan to evaluate prospective providers.

Prepare volunteer health professionals for emergency activation. The Health Department has developed a protocol for selecting, deploying, tracking and deactivating volunteers through its Medical Reserve Corps, a volunteer network that includes 8,700 physicians, pharmacists, dentists, nurses, nurse practitioners, mental health providers and other credentialed health professionals. If called on during an emergency, these volunteers will report to hospitals, clinics and dispensing centers to expand treatment capacity. The city's public and private hospitals are finalizing protocols for accepting the volunteers to work in their facilities.

Secure continuous access to emergency medical supplies. The city and state health departments maintain emergency stockpiles of supplies - gloves, gowns, surgical masks, antiviral drugs - that can be distributed to hospitals in emergencies. The Greater New York Hospital Association (GNYHA) has completed a list of the assets that hospitals would need to manage a large-scale influenza crisis and is working with hospitals and their suppliers to maintain their own surplus supplies.

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