Doctors say bio-attack would overwhelm hospitals : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Tuesday October 16 7:13 PM ET

Doctors Say Bio-Attack Would Overwhelm Hospitals

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A biological attack with anthrax or another agent could quickly overwhelm an already overburdenedU.S. health care system, hospital emergency room physicians said on Tuesday.

While the number of U.S. hospital emergency departments has shrunk by 20 percent in the past decade, they are treating 14 percent more patients, said Dr. Michael Carius, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians.

``A biological or chemical attack could push us over the brink,'' Carius told a news conference during the group's annual convention. ``We have to build the elasticity back into the system, make more (hospital) beds available, and train our people to recognize the symptoms'' of anthrax and other biological or chemical agents, he said.

Several Florida colleagues reported that hospitals were overtaxed in the area of a Boca Raton publishing firm where hundreds of employees have been tested and are now being retested for anthrax.

A photo editor at American Media Inc. died, while eight other employees have tested positive for exposure to anthrax.

The emergency physicians group said tens of thousands of nurses and medical technicians have left the profession because of low pay and poor working conditions, a shortage that could turn critical in the event of a biological or chemical attack.

Even recognizing an epidemic is difficult for emergency departments, where doctors and nurses are taught to treat one patient at a time and work in shifts, said Jonathan Burstein, an emergency physician at Harvard Medical School and a Boston hospital.

One solution would be to equip public health authorities with the ability to compile cases and symptoms daily and look for patterns, he added.

A study to appear in the November issue of the group's journal, Annals of Emergency Medicine, found that only one out of 30 hospitals surveyed last year had stockpiled medicine for a biological attack. Five out of six hospitals could only handle 10 to 50 casualties at once.

The physicians' group said it was lobbying the U.S. Congress to allocate more money to local efforts to prepare for such an attack and to legislate changes in reimbursements for care that would put hospitals on a better financial footing.

Many hospital emergency departments have been shut after losing money treating patients lacking health insurance for whom the emergency rooms provide the care of last resort.

-- Swissrose (, October 17, 2001

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