The flu outbreak - the source of respiratory misery in much of the nation - caused Spring Valley Hospital officials Friday to pitch a tent outside the medical center.
"We're being proactive," said Dr. Kathleen Cornia, medical director of the hospital's Emergency Department. "The flu hasn't hit here hard yet, but we want to have even more space if it does."
Hospital officials requested the tent, which is part of the Las Vegas Valley's Metropolitan Medical Response System. The city of Las Vegas bought the $182,000 mobile medical facility with a grant from the Department of Homeland Security.
The tent is a community resource, but the hospital will pay the cost of operating it, according to Carolyn Levering, emergency manager for Las Vegas.
The tent, which will be up for at least 45 days, isn't the kind of tent you may have used as either a Boy Scout or Girl Scout. Generators inflate the unit, which can accommodate as many as 20 beds and help create a climate-controlled interior.
Cornia said the hospital, off Rainbow Boulevard and Hacienda Avenue, is full of patients with health problems from non flu-related respiratory distress to heart attack victims. She said that if the tent is used, it will be an overflow facility for patients who come to the emergency room with all kinds of health problems, not just the flu.
Gretchen Papaz, a spokeswoman for the hospital, said the medical center is so busy that officials there are constantly assessing whether elective surgeries will have to be canceled or postponed. "So far we have not had to," she said.
Cornia said the five hospitals in the Valley Health System ---- Spring Valley, Summerlin, Valley, Centennial Hills and Desert Springs ---- have a total of 10 patients hospitalized with the flu.
Though Mason Van Houweling, chief operating officer for Spring Valley Hospital, said his medical center has other means of handling an overflow of patients, including using areas not generally used for patients, he said the executive team decided to request the tent because it gave the hospital another option.
While officials with the Southern Nevada Health District describe the flu season locally as mild or moderate, they caution that probably will change in the weeks to come as cold temperatures drive more people inside. They urge people to get flu shots.
Most of the United States is nearing peak infection levels seen during moderately severe flu seasons, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The agency estimates the percentage of people seeing health care providers for influenza had increased during the previous four consecutive weeks to 5.6 percent. That compares with 2.2 percent the previous year, when flu was mild.
More than 15,000 cases have been reported in New York state, nearly triple the number last year. Hospitalizations there are up 169 percent.
Twenty children across the nation have died from the flu.
Standing inside the newly raised tent Friday was Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak, who applauded the cooperation between city and county officials and the private, for-profit Valley Health System. After he spoke with hospital and other government officials, the commissioner hustled to his car.
"I've got to get my flu shot," he said. "We had them over at the county, but I had a bad back that day, and I didn't get mine."
Contact reporter Paul Harasim at email@example.com or 702-387-2908.