Four local hospitals are limiting visitor access to patients in a move to prevent the spread of the flu, an illness that continues to sicken the nation.
Franciscan Alliance on Tuesday announced it adopted visitor restrictions at Franciscan St. Anthony Health hospital in Crown Point, Franciscan St. Margaret Health hospitals in Dyer and Hammond and at Franciscan Physicians Hospital in Munster.
"In light of the recent outbreak of the influenza virus, temporary visitor restrictions have been imposed as a precaution at Franciscan Alliance hospitals, done so in the best interest of our patients and their families, as well as our staff members," said Franciscan Alliance Northern Indiana Region CEO Gene Diamond. "We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. The health and well-being of all concerned is our top priority.”
Influenza is blamed for 21 deaths in Indiana this season. The 2012-13 flu season began relatively early compared to recent years. As of Friday, flu activity was high across most of the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"It is not possible to predict when the season will peak or how severe the 2012-13 season will be, but based on past experience, it’s likely that flu activity will continue for some time," the CDC website states.
People with flulike symptoms, such as a runny nose, cough or a fever of more than 100 degrees, are being asked to not come to the hospitals to visit patients.
Under the restriction, visitors younger than 18 will not be allowed. Also, the hospitals will not allow more than two people at a time to visit a patient, and visiting hours will be strictly enforced.
Toys and reading materials have been removed from many of the waiting rooms, and visitors are being asked to sanitize their hands before coming into the hospitals and wash their hands often and before leaving.
Porter Regional Hospital near Valparaiso has not instituted a formal restriction policy because of the flu, but hospital officials are discouraging ill people from visiting patients.
"At this point, we are encouraging those with flulike symptoms to voluntarily restrict their visiting," said Karen Keltner, manager of marketing and communications.
The hospitals always emphasizes use of masks and proper hand washing and hygiene, making those measures available throughout hospital facilities, she said.
At Ingalls Memorial Hospital in Harvey, precautions such as distributing masks when appropriate have been stepped up, but visitor restriction measures have not been initiated, said Susan Fine, director of marketing communications for Ingalls Health System.
Similar measures are under way at Pinnacle Hospital in Crown Point, where patients — and the people who accompany them — demonstrating symptoms of respiratory infection are instructed to take preventive actions, such as wearing a face mask upon entry and following triage procedure, said Tammy Riffle-Pack, director of marketing and business development.
"We are also taking steps to minimize elective visits by patients with confirmed influenza," she said. "We have visual alerts at all entrances of our facility and in our hospitality areas reminding our guests about respiratory hygiene including how to use face masks and disposing of contaminated items."