The growing rate of flu cases in Berks County has prompted St. Joseph Medical Center to make some changes.
The hospital in Bern Township will open a rapid flu assessment area in its emergency room on Monday. The area, officials said, will help the hospital handle the growing number of patients seeking treatment for flu-like symptoms.
The area will be open weekdays from noon until 8 p.m. until the outbreak subsides. Health officials said they expect it to peak over the next three weeks.
Patients with flu-like symptoms should check in to the main emergency department in order for a professional triage nurse to fully assess their condition and decide which course of action to take.
“Triage is an important part of the process, particularly so we can ensure that flu symptoms are not masking something more serious, like a heart or lung condition,” said Sandy Reedy, manager of St. Joseph’s emergency department.
If patients’ symptoms are a result of the flu and are not too severe, Reedy said they will be directed to the rapid flu area.
Placing flu patients in the same area, Reedy said, minimizes the exposure to others and will "decompress the volume in the acute care ER to be prepared to address life threatening emergencies."
Patients with another health problem, like congestive heart failure combined with the flu, will not be moved to the rapid flu assessment area as their conditions require closer monitoring, Reedy said.
Reading Hospital has also taken steps to address the growing number of flu patients seeking treatment in its emergency room in West Reading. The hospital established a nearby clinic in which people with flu-like symptoms are assessed and either taken back to the emergency room or treated and sent home.
Reading Hospital has also set up a hotline for people to call for more information about the flu. The hotline -- 484-628-1FLU (1358) -- is staffed Mondays through Saturdays from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m.