IU Health, Marion County hospitals implement visitor restrictions

Jan. 23, 2014

The Marion County Public Health Department has implemented temporary visitation restrictions for Indianapolis-area hospitals in response to increased flu activity and the county’s first influenza-related death this flu season.

Stephen Wintermeyer

Stephen Wintermeyer, M.D., is the director of IUPUI Campus Health.

All hospitals and health networks that participate in the Indianapolis Coalition for Patient Safety have agreed to implement Tier 1 of the Patient Visitation Policy. This includes all hospitals within IU Health; Eskenazi Hospital and the Roudebush V.A. Medical Center, as well as St. Vincent Health; Franciscan St. Francis Health and Community Health Network. Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health begin visitor restrictions on Jan. 20; the other hospitals implemented the policy on Jan. 22.  

IU School of Medicine faculty, staff, students, fellows and residents considered employees, affiliated physicians, volunteers, students, contractors and vendors at IU Health and Wishard Health Services were required to receive an influenza vaccination this flu season. In addition, IUPUI health leaders urge the campus community to take precausions against this season's increase in flu activity, with the predominate strain being H1N1, which strikes young adults at a higher rate than other flu strains.

"IUPUI Campus Health has not seen a spike in flu cases so far, but the peak months are usually February and March," said Stephen Wintermeyer, M.D., director of the IUPUI Campus Health and and associate professor of medicine at the IU School of Medicine, who was named an Indianapolis "Top Doc" in 2013. All IUPUI faculty, staff and students can obtain a free flu vaccine at Campus Health. Students can also obtain a free flu shot at Campus Center Student Health."

Located in Coleman Hall, IUPUI Campus Health is open from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday. The IUPUI Campus Center Student Health clinic is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday; from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday and Thursday; and from 9 a.m. to 2  p.m. Friday. The Marion County Public Health Department also offers low-cost flu shots at its district health offices. Flu shots are $15 for adults; $10 for kids ages 2-18; and free for children under two years old. For a list of district health office locations, call the Flu Hotline at 317-221-2121.

The Tier 1 option of the patient visitation policy has the following restrictions:

  • No visitors with influenza-like illnesses fever or cough.
  • No visitors under the age of 18 – unless special arrangements are made.
  • No visitors allowed beyond immediate family, partner or significant other.
  • Visitors should call the hospital before arriving if they have any questions about the restrictions.

Moreover, IUPUI Campus Health offers the following tips to reduce the risk of flu to themselves and others:

  • Obtain a flu vaccine if you have not already done so. It is not too late to get a flu vaccine. The flu vaccine takes two weeks to become protective, and the flu season typically lasts through March.
  • Stay home from school or work when you are sick
  • Avoid people who are coughing or sneezing
  • Cough or sneeze into your sleeve, not your hands
  • Clean your hands often with soap or water or a hand sanitizer 

“The flu is always a cause of concern because it can cause significant illness and, in certain cases, lead to death,” said Virginia A. Caine, M.D., director of the the MCPHD and associate professor of medicine at the IU School of Medicine. “These restrictions are designed as an extra precaution to help protect patients, visitors and hospital staff from unnecessary exposure to the flu virus.”

Added Charles Miramonti, M.D., chair of the Indianapolis Coalition for Patient Safety and assistant professor of clinical emergency medicine at the IU School of Medicine: "This decision was made to put patient safety first. The hope is we can stay ahead of the game and prevent the spread of the flu from reaching a critical point. Doing what’s best to improve outcomes for patients is why the Indianapolis Coalition for Patent Safety exists."

For the week of Jan. 5 to 11, Marion County reports that 2.32 percent of all hospital emergency department visits countywide were for influenza-like illness. While this rate is lower than the 3.9 percent ILI reported during the same week last year, the recent increase in flu activity combined with the first flu-related death of the season is a cause for concern. Flu activity peaked at 5.09 percent of influenza-like illness in Marion County last season.

Currently, Indiana is in the "widespread" flu category as monitored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to the Indiana State Department of Health for the week ending Jan. 11, the statewide ILI rate from hospital emergency departments was 3.39 percent.   

Visitor restrictions will remain in place until Dr. Caine and the coalition decide they are no longer needed based on regular assessments of Marion County flu data and potential exposure to patients. The Patient Visitation Policy was developed in 2009 during the H1N1 outbreak. This is the third time for activating restrictions using this policy; Tier 1 was implemented from Jan. 16 to Feb. 8, 2013, during last year’s flu season. Tier 1 is the least restrictive option.

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