Walla Walla health leaders touting alternatives to ER during flu outbreak

Walla Walla health leaders touting alternatives to ER during flu outbreak

WALLA WALLA, Wash. — The influenza bug hit the Walla Walla area earlier in the season than usual, leading to over-crowded emergency rooms and long waits in waiting rooms.

Providence Medical Center Chief Nursing Officer Lori Asmus said the flu hit early, and it hit everyone hard,

"Yesterday was chaos," she said. "Our Urgent Care was totally full, Express Care was full, people are sick and the ER is really-really busy."

Health leaders are urging healthy families to be vigilant,

"People need to really protect themselves," Asmus said. "Wash your hands, cover your coughs. If you're sick, stay home. Don't go to work. Don't go to school."

Providence St. Mary Medical Center Chief Nursing Officer Yvonne Strader said the flu shot isn't a perfect barrier of protection, but it is a significant line of defense,

"I think we have to remember," she said. "The flu shot isn't just for the person who gets the shot, its to protect those around them as well. And thats one of the reasons that we emphasize, and encourage our health care providers to get the flu shot. Not just for them, but those that they care for."

Asmus said the flu isn't a big deal if you're healthy,

"It's a minor inconvenience," she said. "But if you're really sick already it could kill you. I think people forget that other people do die from the flu. Thousands of people die every year."

Both said if you come down with flu-like symptoms, think twice before heading to the Emergency Room because you're exposing yourself to more harmful illnesses, and filling time slots that could be needed by someone having an actual emergency."

"If you look at the diagnoses in the ER," Asmes said. "A lot of them are coughs and colds. Maybe flu symptoms for a day or two. Those people could really be seen by their own physician or in Urgent or Express Care facilities."

Strader agreed that folks need to explore their options before heading to the ER, "That way it doesn't clog up the emergency departments for those more critically ill patients."

"You could sit in the ER for ten hours," Asmus said. "Whereas you could go to your own physician, or an Urgent Care or Express care and be in and out within the hour."

She said Express Care facilities are run by Nurse Practitioners who quickly assess the problem, write your script, and send you on your way.

There are also Urgent Care facilities providing care for more serious injuries and illnesses.

Providence Express Care also has a virtual service where you can access a doctor through your smartphone, laptop, or tablet.

Asmes said too many people don't know about these fast, affordable options and unnecessarily expose themselves to an extra dose of germs and long wait-times when they're already feeling pretty low.

That's why they're trying to get the word out.

Strader said if you're sick, "Stay inside. Stay away from big public areas."

And if you need a doctor, pick the best one for your need.

They shared an easy way to evaluate which venue to go to,

  • If you sprain it go to Express Care.
  • If you think it might be broken, go to Urgent Care, where they can take an X-ray.
  • If the bone is sticking out, go straight to the Emergency Room.

For more information on Urgent Care services, visit

For more information on Express Care services:

To learn about or set up a virtual appointment, visit Express Care Virtual

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