Action allows hospitals to better handle large numbers of patients as outbreak spreads
SATURDAY, Oct. 24 (HealthDay News) -- President Barack Obama has declared the H1N1 swine flu a national emergency.
His proclamation, signed Friday night and released by the White House Saturday morning, will allow hospitals and doctors' offices to get legal waivers of federal rules so they can handle large numbers of sick people as the outbreak spreads.
"The H1N1 is moving rapidly, as expected. By the time regions or health-care systems recognize they are becoming overburdened, they need to implement disaster plans quickly," White House spokesman Reid Cherlin said Saturday, according to the Washington Post.
The waivers, which will be issued by U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, still require individual requests by the hospitals, Cherlin noted.
The goal, according to the Associated Press, is to remove bureaucratic roadblocks and make it easier for sick people to seek treatment and for medical personnel to provide it immediately. That could mean fewer hurdles involving Medicare, Medicaid or health privacy regulations, the AP added.
The H1N1 swine flu is now widespread in 46 states, and there have been 1,000 laboratory-confirmed deaths since April, according to the latest estimates released Friday by U.S. health officials.
Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told a news conference Friday, "We have already had millions of cases of pandemic influenza in the United States, and the numbers continue to increase."
At the same time, he said, production delays continue to hamper distribution of the H1N1 swine flu vaccine.
The vaccine is growing more slowly in egg-based cultures than manufacturers had anticipated, resulting in fewer available doses at this time, Frieden explained.
All rights reserved