All New Jersey hospitals should suspend visiting privileges for persons younger than 18 to stem the spread of swine flu, the hospital industry’s leading trade group recommended today. Many hospitals around the state already have barred children from visiting as cases of the swine flu, also known as H1N1, steadily increased. “These are common sense precautions in the midst of a growing H1N1 flu outbreak,” said Betsy Ryan, president and CEO of the New Jersey Hospital Association, located in Princeton Junction. “We apologize for the inconvenience these restrictions may pose, but we trust our visitors will understand that they are in everyone’s best interest. These precautions not only protect our hospitalized patients, but also visitors, especially children who have proven to be one of the groups most vulnerable to this new strain of flu.”
A spokeswoman for state Department of Health and Senior Services endorsed the hospital’s recommendation.
“The Department reminds hospitals to inform patients and their families of changes in visiting polices. Notices should also be posted in facilities,” said Donna Leusner, state spokeswoman.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges hospitals to take it even a step further, Leusner said.
“Healthcare facilities may wish to limit visitors to persons who are necessary for the patient’s emotional well-being and care,” Leusner said. “The CDC guidance suggests that visitors should be screened for symptoms of acute respiratory illness before entering the hospital.”
Before they enter a patient’s room, the CDC also suggested hospital employees instruct visitors on proper hand hygiene, as well as “limiting surfaces touched,” she said.
The association in the report also urged hospitals to bar adults from visiting if they are suffering from fevers, colds, sore throats, vomiting or diarrhea.
Hospitals began temporarily changing their visitor policies in the last three weeks. They include Warren Hospital and Hackettstown Regional Medical Center; Virtua Memorial and Virtua Berlin, Marlton and Voorhees; Morristown Memorial Hospital; Overlook Hospital in Summit; Palisades Medical Center in North Bergen; Newton Memorial Hospital; St. Clare’s Health System; St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in Paterson and its sister hospital in Wayne; Chilton Memorial Hospital in Pequannock. Similar policies are expected to begin later this week at Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, and Holy Name Hospital in Teaneck.
“We hope this will make it easier for visitors by creating consistency across the state – although the final decisions on visitation policies still rest with the individual hospitals,” said hospital association spokeswoman Kerry McKean Kelly.
State Health and Senior Services Commissioner Heather Howard recently said swine flu is on the rise again, after the initial outbreak from spring through the summer. School absenteeism is up, as are visits to emergency rooms and physicians’ offices.
There have been 20 patients who have died from complications from the swine flu, according to state reports. Star Ledger