Exclusive: in the “red zone” of a hospital emergency department

As hospitals across the country face the growing threat of what the flu combined with COVID-19 cases could do to our healthcare system, doctors fear the worst is yet to come.

Today an exclusive look was given inside the ‘red zone’ inside the emergency department of St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney to see just how serious the threat already is.

Infectious disease doctor Dr David Andresen has been tracking flu numbers in hospitals and today said the combined strain of COVID-19 and a potentially huge wave of flu will bring an unprecedented challenge.

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You can sign up for the Today newsletter here. (Today)

Emergency staff at St Vincent’s in Sydney are worried about what they will see this winter due to the number of flu infections already brought into the red zone this year. (Today)

READ MORE: Millions eligible for free flu vaccine starting today

“It’s already at levels similar to a severe pre-pandemic year and we’re quite worried about what we’ll see this winter if this trend continues,” Dr Andresen told Today.

“It’s going up and we don’t know how long it’s going to keep going up. It’s already at a very worrying level, especially with the pressure on the ER, if it keeps going up then you’re superimposing that on things that are already important l ongoing COVID activity and it’s a double whammy for the healthcare system.”

The emergency department’s medical director, Associate Professor Paul Preisz, said it was only a matter of time before healthcare staff found out the scale of the surge in cases.

Dr David Andresen has been tracking the hospital flu numbers. (Today)

READ MORE: How to Get a Free Flu Shot in Your State or Territory

He gave Today’s Lara Vella insight into the workings of St Vincent’s Emergency Department “red zone”, a highly restricted area for COVID-19 patients that is also quickly filling up with flu patients.

Anyone entering this area should wear full PPE, including tested masks, face shields, gloves and protective scrubs.

This is the same equipment that doctors and nurses have to wear for a ten-hour shift every day.

“We have a few resuscitation areas that are much more specialized and negative pressure rooms that are built for full cardiac arrest and full resuscitation,” Preisz said.

“A patient is here now who was really, really sick and there’s only one room that’s currently free. We’re quite busy.”

The emergency department’s medical director, Associate Professor Paul Preisz, took Today to the St Vincents red zone. (Today)
Dr Bash Jagarlamudi said the last two years had been a marathon but it was not over and the next 12 months would be quite difficult. (Today)

READ MORE: Frontline workers demand a complete overhaul of the national health system

Dr Bash Jagarlamudi is one of the doctors working in the ward and she said many patients being treated for flu are often young and healthy.

“We have seen a lot of very sick people with the flu, it will be quite a difficult year with still a lot of COVID-19 cases and with the flu on top of that it will put a lot of strain on our resources,” Jagarlamudi said. .

She said the past two years have been a marathon with COVID-19 and doctors don’t know when it’s going to subside.

“It’s not really over. I don’t know when it will be and I don’t think anyone knows, which makes it difficult,” she said.

As frontline healthcare workers continue their tireless efforts to keep us safe, they’re urging everyone to protect themselves by getting their flu shot.

Today an exclusive look into the red zone of St Vincent’s Hospital Emergency Department was given. (Today)

“The flu vaccine is free, it’s available to almost everyone now. It will protect you,” Preisz said.

We can’t guarantee it’s perfect, but it will keep you safe and your chances of getting sick and needing hospitalization are much lower.

“I strongly urge people to get vaccinated and take care of themselves.”

Watch Lara Vella’s exclusive report above

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