Washington Co. Hospital limits young visitors



The following story contained incorrect information about Western Maryland Hospital Center employees with flu-like symptoms.

At the time, eight employees at the center had experienced the symptoms within a period of about 10 days, according to Melissa Hutton, the center's interim infection preventionist. Four employees were in one unit. The center had increased to a Level 3 alert stage, on a scale of 1 to 5.

As of Thursday, Oct. 15, the flu concern had diminished and the center had dropped to a Level 2 alert stage, Hutton said.

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Washington County Hospital said Thursday it has stopped allowing visitors younger than 18, who are more susceptible to getting and spreading H1N1 flu.


It's both a precaution and a reaction to "a large number of children with influenza in our community," hospital spokeswoman Nicole Jovel wrote in an e-mail.

H1N1 -- commonly known as swine flu -- also is forcing changes at local nursing homes and at Western Maryland Hospital Center at 1500 Pennsylvania Ave., where eight employees in one unit exhibited flu-like symptoms in recent days.

"We are taking the temperatures of all employees and checking for symptoms when they report to work," said Melissa Hutton, the hospital center's interim infection preventionist.

Liz Nelson, an administrative coordinator at Reeders Memorial Home in Boonsboro, said there are signs at the front door urging people to use caution when visiting the facility.

"There are masks at all stations and hand sanitizer dispensers on the wall," Nelson said.

None of the other facilities contacted Thursday had imposed an age limit on visitors as Washington County Hospital has.

Kathy Morrisey, a nurse who is the hospital's director of infection control, said the restriction will last as long as H1N1 flu season does.

It's not clear how long that will be. For seasonal flu, which is a different strain, the period usually runs from October to March, Morrisey said.

"We don't know," she said. "We've never gone through this before."

Although the hospital policy applies to everyone younger than 18 years old, unless they're patients, Morrisey said there might be exceptions for unusual circumstances, such as a 17-year-old visiting a dying relative.

Western Maryland Hospital Center has gone to a Level 3 alert stage because of the spread of the flu, Hutton said.

The least serious level is 1 and the most serious is Level 5. The state of Maryland is at Level 2, she said.

Hutton said the center isn't limiting visitors by age, but wants them to stay away if they have flu-like symptoms.

"We have brochures and posters at all entrances," Hutton said. Masks, hand sanitizer and tissues also are available for visitors.

C.J. Henson, director of nursing at Williamsport Retirement Village, said the staff must get regular flu shots and will get the H1N1 shot when it's available.

"We are encouraging visitors to wear masks when visiting," Henson said. Those masks are available free in the reception areas.

No age restrictions have been put in place at Williamsport Retirement Village or the Fahrney-Keedy Home near Boonsboro.

"We're just asking people to use precautions .... If they aren't feeling well, they shouldn't come for a visit," said Cassandra Weaver, senior director of administrative services at Fahrney-Keedy.

By Monday, Fahrney-Keedy expects to have "cough stations" in place at entrances, with masks, hand sanitizer and tissues for all visitors.

Weaver, who sent out an advisory about these plans, said notices are posted at all entrances.

Officials at Summit Health, the parent organization of both Chambersburg (Pa.) and Waynesboro (Pa.) hospitals, are urging parents to avoid taking children to those hospitals to visit loved ones.

Because some schools in Franklin County have seen a surge in the number of students with flu-like symptoms, hospital officials are requesting that parents do not take children younger than 18 years old to the hospital as visitors unless they have been given special permission by the patient's doctor.

"This is just a temporary change until this situation passes. We need to limit our patients' exposure to visitors under 18 because of the likelihood that students have interacted with sick classmates and are carrying the flu virus," said Dr. Thomas Anderson, vice president of medical affairs for Summit Health.

As the number of people visiting the emergency departments at both hospitals has risen significantly in the past week, officials are concerned about increased risk of spreading the flu.

For most people who have the flu or flu-like symptoms, the best remedy is to stay home, rest and drink plenty of fluids, Anderson said.

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