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Merced hospital ready for swine flu outbreak

After the report last week of one woman's death from the swine flu in Merced County, Mercy Medical Center Merced is ramping up for an influx of patients.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the numbers of people suffering from the flu is higher than normal for this time of the year.

And it's only expected to get worse.

But Merced County, and Mercy, are ready if a lot of patients with the flu end up at the hospital.

Robert McLaughlin, spokesman for Mercy, said that because the hospital anticipates more patients with the flu will come to the hospital, the supply of face shields, masks, goggles and isolation gowns has been tripled.

"We are anticipating and planning for what I would consider to be a severe flu season," McLaughlin said.The hospital is licensed for 174 beds, but more than 150 patients would severely impact the hospital, McLaughlin said. The census for the past couple of weeks has been about 115.

If too many patients flooded the hospital, the county and the hospital have formulated a plan to take care of the extra people.

Katie Albertson, spokeswoman for the county, said that there is a plan in place in case of a pandemic flu. The first step would be to expand inside the hospital.

"They would be doubling up patients in rooms, and putting beds into meeting rooms," Albertson said.

If that didn't take care of the extra patients, the next step would be to reopen the Dominican campus on M St.

That hospital has been closed to inpatients for years. It is being used for outpatient surgeries and procedures.There are also tents that are specifically to be used as alternate care sites, Albertson said. Those tents would be set up on hospital property.

The swine flu presents like most other flu viruses, with a fever, sore throat, coughing, and body aches. But the new strain of the flu seems to be killing more young people than a normal flu virus does. A 5-year-old girl recently died in Stockton, and a man in his 30s died in Lathrop from the virus.

At Mercy's clinics, where walk-in patients and those without insurance are welcome, kits for people with flu-like symptoms are ready.

Nancy Larson, senior director of ambulatory services at Mercy, said that the kits include a mask, alcohol swabs and tissues. They will be handed out to anyone coming in with flu symptoms so that the virus doesn't spread to other people in the waiting rooms.

But Larson said that the biggest weapon against the flu isn't available.

"We won’t be getting any vaccine for the H1N1 (swine flu) until about mid-October," Larson said.

Until then, Larson wants to remind everyone that there is one good habit that can help stop the flu.

"We tell everyone to wash hands, wash hands," Larson said. "You can’t do enough hand washing."

Reporter Carol Reiter can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or