PIKEVILLE — Those feeling flu-y in Eastern Kentucky now have a 24/7 clinic all their own, one of the first of its kind in the state.
To alleviate flu traffic in the emergency room, Pikeville Medical Center opened a regional flu clinic Monday. Doctors had seen dozens of patients by the close of business. The clinic offers complete testing, X-ray and lab services.
Patricia Harrison of Cowpen in Pike County took daughter Candace, 10, to their family doctor when Candace first got sick about a month ago. She didn't have the flu then, but her aches, pains and cough have lingered. So an after-hours clinic recommended chest X-rays, which the flu clinic provided. Blood work and swab tests were to determine within a couple of hours whether Candace had the flu.
"It seems every time she goes outside she gets sick," Harrison said. Even though it wasn't the flu before, "the doctor told us it can change very quickly."
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The building that houses the regional flu center, about five minutes from the main hospital on North Mayo Trail, was already used by the hospital for clinics. But a five-day renovation created a new registration area and six exam rooms, said Jerry Johnson, the hospital's chief operating officer. Additional staff was hired to allow the flu clinic to operate around the clock.
Like an emergency room, the flu clinic can bill treatment to health insurance. Those without insurance won't be turned away, said Joshua Ball, director of communications for the hospital.
President Barack Obama's declaration of a national flu emergency was "a call to arms," but Johnson said ever-increasing flu traffic to the emergency room was really the deciding factor to open the flu clinic.
The flu outbreak prompted school officials in Pike and Floyd counties to cancel classes last week. The hospital already had heightened its precautionary measures for hospital visitors, limiting entrances and requiring visitors to be at least 12 years old.
"I think it's wonderful," said Crystal Newsome, public health preparedness coordinator for the Pikeville Health Department. "Anything that can help limit the spread of the disease is a step in the right direction."
More clinics are likely to be created if the wave of flu doesn't abate, said Dr. Kraig Hambaugh, the state's epidemiologist. Kentucky has had a surge of widespread flu for about six weeks. Historically, he said, the number of flu cases comes in waves.