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Seasonal illnesses jam area hospitals

January 05, 2000|By RICHARD F. BELISLE, Waynesboro

Patients, many of them suffering from flu-like symptoms and other seasonal ailments, are filling beds in hospitals across the Tri-State area, but hospital personnel say that is not unusual for this time of year.

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Some hospitals have responded to the high number of admissions by taking steps such as canceling elective surgery and asking that the family and friends of those hospitalized limit visits so they don't expose themselves to the flu and don't bring in illnesses from outside.

Washington County Hospital, which has experienced an increase in the number in patients admitted with flu-like symptoms, respiratory and gastrointestinal problems, is asking that patients have no more than two visitors at a time. And hospital personnel ask that young children visit only newborn siblings in the Family Birthing Center.

"For the health of our community, it makes sense to restrict visitors, especially children and those who may be sick themselves," said Diana Donegan, director of customer relations at Washington County Hospital.

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Hospital spokeswoman Maureen Theriault said the hospital is not accepting transfers from other hospitals at this time.

Washington County Hospital normally has about 253 patients, but on Wednesday there were 271, Theriault said.

On average, Chambersburg (Pa.) Hospital has between 150 to 160 patients, said Sheran White, spokeswoman for Summit Health, owners of Chambersburg and Waynesboro, Pa., hospitals.

On Wednesday, Chambersburg Hospital had 190 patients.

Waynesboro Hospital, which averages about 35 patients a day, was treating 48 on Wednesday, White said.

Some elective surgery procedures have been postponed, White said.

White said the admission office is seeing a significant number of patients with respiratory and gastrointestinal disorders. "This seems to be a busy time for us, but we're not seeing an overabundance of flu cases," she said.

Chronically ill patients who get the flu are in particular danger and should be hospitalized, she said.

White urged hospital visitors to use good judgment. If they are sick themselves, they should not visit patients in the hospital, she said.

Laura Riggs, spokeswoman for City Hospital in Martinsburg, W.Va., said the hospital was full Wednesday. "It's not unusual for this time of year," she said.

The situation was normal at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Martinsburg. "There is nothing unusual here," said hospital spokeswoman Doris Griffin.

Teresa McCabe, spokeswoman at Jefferson Memorial Hospital in Ranson, W.Va., said that hospital was full over the weekend holiday.

War Memorial Hospital in Berkeley Springs, W.Va., also was crowded this week, said spokeswoman Lyn Goodwin.

"We've been at near capacity all week," Goodwin said. The hospital has not had to take any unusual measures, however, she said.

Melissa Randler at the Fulton County Medical Center in McConnellsburg, Pa., said all 29 medical-surgical beds were full Wednesday. "This is what we experience this time of year, but we haven't had any disruptions. We did have to divert patients to Waynesboro a couple of times over the weekend," she said.

Washington County Hospital's emergency room also is being kept busy. On a normal day, the emergency room treats 150 patients. On Wednesday, 210 patients were seen, Theriault said.

"It's pretty normal for January and February," she said.

Maryland health officials said Wednesday that 11 of 24 Baltimore metropolitan hospitals were on red alert, meaning they had no more critical care beds and their inpatient operations were overwhelmed.

Dr. Rick Alcorta, head of the Emergency Medical Resource Center, a Maryland agency that tracks the status of hospitals, called the flu outbreak a health care crisis.

Staff Writer Marlo Barnhart and The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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