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UPDATE: Patient protection coming at cost to visitors at area health care facilities
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UPDATE: Patient protection coming at cost to visitors at area health care facilities

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Symphony Care Network, which operates senior-care facilities throughout the Region, has opted for a hardline approach to the challenge faced by all health care providers of protecting patients against the growing threat of COVID-19 — the disease caused by the coronavirus.

The company is limiting visitation of guests and non-essential visitors, such as volunteers and maintenance staff, at its locations in Indiana and Illinois, the company confirmed after The Times received a report from a man stopped from entering the Chesterton site.

"While there have been no reported cases of COVID-19 within these centers, the organization is taking necessary measures to protect vulnerable patients, and the communities it serves," the company said.

Health care providers across the Region are grappling with the challenge of protecting patient health, while faced with the desire of family and friends to visit.

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"The organization understands that restricting visitation to their guests, while in the best interest of their well being, can be extremely worrisome to families and loved ones," according to Symphony. "Knowing this, measures have been taken to bring additional communication devices into these centers to keep families connected and to provide greater peace of mind."

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Visitors at the Rittenhouse Village senior living facilities in Valparaiso, Portage and Michigan City are being screened with health questions before they are allowed to enter, according to Anne McGoldrick, business office manager at the Valparaiso location.

The questions ask about coughs, fevers and other symptoms of illness, as well as recent travel, she said.

"If they have any markers that alarm us, we just don't let them into the building," McGoldrick said.

There has also been an increase in sanitation at the facilities and employees are screened each day, she said.

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"They're all very understanding," McGoldrick said.

Symphony is also watching its employees closely.

"Health care providers for Symphony facilities have been advised to stay home if they suspect they are ill," the company said. "Asking staff to self-quarantine is essential to ending the spread of this virus."

Symphony operates facilities in Chesterton, Crown Point and Dyer, as well as St. Joseph, Michigan, and several locations in nearby Illinois, according to its website.

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Those who have traveled to high-risk areas for COVID-19, have been in contact with someone infected by the virus or who are exhibiting symptoms such as a cough, fever or difficulty in breathing, are asked to delay their visits to Porter Regional Hospital, LaPorte Hospital and Starke Hospital, according to Kelly Credit, regional director of network marketing and communications.

The hospitals are limiting visitors to two immediate family members, partners or significant others ages 18 and older at any given time, she said.

The Community Healthcare System, which operates Community Hospital in Munster, St. Catherine Hospital in East Chicago, St. Mary Medical Center in Hobart and Community Stroke & Rehabilitation Center in Crown Point, have retained the visitor restrictions put in place in January to combat the spread of flu, according to Media/Public Relations Specialist Elise Sims.

Only two visitors are allowed at a time and no one is to visit if they have flu-like or coronavirus symptoms such as a fever, cough, shortness of breath or other respiratory difficulties, she said. Children under the age of 12 are restricted from visiting patients.

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"Community Healthcare System physicians, nurses and other clinicians remain vigilant in the delivery of care," the company said. "They have been and will continue to proactively screen and monitor patients coming into our facilities for the COVID-19 virus. With routine precautions already in place, the hospitals' staff are well prepared for this situation and continue to operate under rigorous infection control procedures."

Franciscan Health reports also maintaining visitor restrictions enacted in December at its Crown Point, Hammond, Dyer, Munster and Michigan City facilities to combat the spread of flu.

Those restrictions include a cap of two visitors at a time and no children under the age of 16, according to the health care provider.

Officials at Symphony said they are in close contact with state and local health officials.

"All providers have received additional and escalated training in infection control and emergency communication procedures," the company said. "In the event of an infectious outbreak in their respective facilities, Symphony care providers have received education in medical crisis mitigation."

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Porter/LaPorte County Courts and Social Justice Reporter

Bob is a 23-year veteran of The Times. He covers county government and courts in Porter County, federal courts, police news and regional issues. He also created the Vegan in the Region blog, is an Indiana University grad and lifelong region resident.

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