Groundhog Day Storm: Hospital Emergency Rooms Busy in Winter Ice

Experts caution snow puts elderly at highest risk.

February 2, 2011, 3:48 PM

Feb. 2, 2010— -- Hospital emergency rooms across the Midwest and northeast are already seeing the inevitable spike in weather-related cases, according to hospitals contacted by the ABC News Medical Unit. They say they are bracing for more, especially among the most vulnerable, the elderly.

"This is a very tenuous time for the elderly," said Dr. Kumar Alagappan, associate chairman of emergency medicine at the North Shore Long Island Jewish Health System in New York.

Emergency departments located on the storm's path are most commonly reporting cases among all ages of slips and falls, and chest pains after shoveling snow.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System's radiology department oversaw 156 injury X-rays over the past two days – more than double what they normally see. According to the department, some were multiple X-rays taken for one patient, and many were due to icy slips and falls.

Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago – one of the hardest-hit areas in this week's storm – told ABC News they are now seeing "some of the worst fractures this year compared to over the past few years."

The elderly are inevitably at higher risk for trouble, especially those on medications such as blood thinners, said Alagappan.

"I would tell caregivers to make sure the elderly have enough supplies at home, check in on them, and keep them indoors," he said. "You don't want them venturing out alone."

Many who suffer from dementia and may wander outside could be at an increased risk for hypothermia, according Dr. Michael Miller, clinical medical director of the department of emergency medicine at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

"You don't really need to check the mail today," said Miller.

Spikes in emergency cases are routine for most emergency rooms in snowy winters, and most are ready to handle the influx. Still, the message from most experts to prevent emergencies is for all people, not just the elderly, to stay inside.

"Really everyone is at risk, because you don't really know how much your body can take in this type of weather," said Dr. Michael Miller, clinical medical director of the department of emergency medicine at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

Groundhog Day Storm: Emergency Rooms Busy

Miller said dehydration is common among many healthy children and adults who may go out walking or playing in the snow.

"Especially with these winds it can creep on you really quick," he said.

Alagappan said nearly 30 percent of emergency cases at North Shore Long Island Jewish Health System so far today have been weather-related. Many people thought they could handle the storm, he said.

"I think we're going to have a lot more patients who are falling, because people don't see it on the black tops. We also anticipate a lot more car accidents than we've already seen," said Alagappan. "We know that with reports of storms come potential emergencies, so we're ready."

Many people in the Midwest need only look out the window to see how bad this week's snow and ice storm has been. The National Weather Service says the worst of the storm is now moving through the Northeast.

"We definitely expect to see more motor vehicle accidents and snow blower accidents," said Miller. "Mainly, we're just making sure we're adequately staffed."

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