Marion County hospitals are enacting temporary restrictions on who can visit patients in the wake of a widening flu epidemic.
The first level of the 2009 Patient Visitation Police will take effect Jan. 18. No one with influenza-like illnesses, a sore throat, a fever or a cough will be allowed to visit a patient. No one under the age of 18, unless special arrangements have been made, can visit a patient. No one, but family, close kin, or spouses and domestic partners are allowed to visit patients.
“I believe it is important to add this layer of protection as we look for ways to decrease the spread of the flu to patients, visitors and health care workers,” said Virginia Caine, Marion County Health Director.
Dr. Caine said there was an increase of the number of hospital visits made by people with flu-like illnesses and that is why they wanted to implement the policy. It is the second time the policy has been activated. The policy was developed during the H1N1 pandemic and is a part of the Indianapolis Coalition for Public Safety.
From last week to this week, the number of visits to emergency departments went from 238 to 403. From October to present date, the number of visits doubled from this time last year.
“I have to say they are so well prepared. They can make these tough decisions to protect the community,” Dr. Caine said.
The hospitals with restrictions include Marion County hospitals within IU Health, St. Vincent Health, Franciscan St. Francis Health, Community Health Network and Wishard Hospital along with Roudebush V.A. Medical Center.
“You have to move early on something like this,” said Charlie Miramonit, Chief of EMS for Indianapolis.
Miramonti is also the chair of Indianapolis Coalition for Patient Safety.
While Marion County has seen a spike, health officials believe this is the right step to take now.
“We believe because of these strong measures we’re going to put in place, (it) should help us reach peak very rapidly that we’ll start to see a down hill with our numbers,” Dr. Caine said.
Dr. Caine said recommendations were being made to long-term care providers and nursing homes as well. The recommendations are less restrictive than the ones for the hospitals. No one who has influenza-like illnesses should be allowed to visit. Children and adults that have not been vaccinated should work with nursing staff before visiting. It is recommended that anyone who plans to visit during the flu season, should get a vaccine. Lastly, if two people within 72 hours of each other positively test for the flu, everyone else who is not sick in the building should be given medication like the Tamiflu.
Allisonville Meadows, which is one of 58 facilities within American Senior Communities, has already implemented measures to prevent the flu from spreading. American Senior Communities Director of Educational Services, Eric Wolfe, said no one at that facility has the flu. He said they want to be proactive because this strain of the influenza is aggressive among elderly people.
“We’ve upped some of our precautions since meeting with Marion county department last Wednesday,” Wolfe said.
Wolfe said they have limited visits from people under the age of 18, unless they have been vaccinated. They have gone back to employees and residents, asking them to reconsider getting the vaccine. Wolfe said they are following the health department at least until the end of January.
“Two years ago, the H1N1 was targeting children, you know. This year, we’ve definitely identified that it’s much more focused on the elderly population. I think the main thing is being vaccinated… to try to prevent people from spreading it throughout the community,” Wolfe said.
The Marion County Health Department will host a free flu clinic shot. It will be between 1-5 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 18. The clinic will be located at the health department’s training center at 4012 N. Rural St.