Atlanta's Grady Hospital opens mobile ER to handle flu surge

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For the second year in a row, Grady Memorial Hospital is opening a mobile ER just outside one of the busiest emergency departments in the Southeast.

Dr. Hany Atallah, Chief of Emergency Medicine at Grady Health System, says they're hoping to get ahead of an expected surge in patients coming in with flu-like illnesses.

"We're already seeing an increase in flu," Dr. Atallah says. "We've had about 170 cases in our department alone. Some of those patients went home, some have been admitted to the ICU, and everything in between."

On loan from a Charlotte hospital, Atrium Health "Carolinas MED-1," can handle 12 patients at a time.  The unit can be set up and ready to go in as little as 48 hours.

Atallah says the mobile unit will give them the space they need to streamline the flow of patients.

Last flu season, Grady's emergency department treated many as 500 patients a day, 100 to 150 more than a typical day.

Dr. Atallah says the portable unit helped ease overcrowding by allowing them to divert less urgent patients to the medical trailer, where they could be seen and treated more quickly.

"We were able to get about 100 patients a day through here, and that allowed us to decompress our waiting areas," he says.,

"Ideally, and this happened last year, we want our waiting room empty, at all times."

Beginning Thursday morning, patients with flu-like illnesses will check-in through the hospital's main emergency department, and then be escorted by a staffer into the mobile unit.  

Dr. Atallah says last year, the patient reviews were largely positive.

"Most of them really like it, they think it's interesting," Atallah says.  "I think for a lot of our patients, as long as the care is there, they're happy to be seen in our department."

The unit is on loan for about $213,000 a month.

The hospital has stepped up staffing to keep the unit operating alongside the main emergency department.

Atallah says they set up the trailer 2 weeks earlier this year and will keep it as long as they need it.

He's hopeful they won't be hit quite as hard as they were last winter, in the 2017-18 season.

But, if the surge does come, Atallah says Grady will be ready for it.

"For us, it's really about making sure the care is there," he says.