Md. hospitals restrict visitors amid particularly brutal flu season

Frederick Memorial Hospital issued its guidelines late last month and is restricting patients to no more than two healthy visitors at a time

By Kate Masters
The Frederick News-Post

FREDERICK, Md. —Two area hospitals have established stricter visitor policies amid a particularly brutal flu season to keep people safe from infection.

Frederick Memorial Hospital issued its guidelines late last month and is restricting patients to no more than two healthy visitors at a time, according to a release issued by the hospital.

Children under 16 are not permitted to visit someone at the hospital except under special circumstances, which will be judged and determined by staff members.

People with symptoms of the flu—including nausea, vomiting, fever, sore throat or muscle aches—are asked not to visit the hospital. If any patient or visitor shows symptoms of the flu but absolutely must be in the building, they are required to wear a face mask and stay away from crowded areas, including the cafeteria and gift shop.

"We'll continue to monitor the situation and update [the restrictions] as needed," spokeswoman Melissa Lambdin wrote in an email Monday.

At the beginning of January, Frederick Memorial recorded 140 positive flu tests in a three-week period. The hospital is still experiencing peak flu season, according to Dr. Vipul Kella, medical director of the emergency department.

In an interview last week, he said that roughly 20 percent of emergency room patients are coming into the hospital with flu-related complaints.

"We're just seeing people come in earlier and sicker this year," Kella said. "This particular flu strain has been around for 50 years, but it just happens to be more prevalent this year, and it's more aggressive than other strains."

Restrictions were also put into place over the weekend at Meritus Medical Center near Hagerstown. Patients are allowed to have only one healthy visitor, age 18 or older, at a time.

Anyone under the age of 18 is not permitted to visit the hospital, according to a release from Meritus.

"The visiting policy may be amended by our infection control experts and hospital clinical leaders in order to best meet the needs of our patients," said Kathy Lewis, director of clinical and service excellence at the hospital. "We are asking for the patience and support of our community as we temporarily restrict some from visiting in order to keep everyone safer from the flu virus."

Emergency rooms across the state have been burdened by a high volume of flu cases this year, according to a news release from the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems (MIEMSS). According to the most recent data from the Maryland Department of Health, the intensity of influenza-like illness is high and the geographic distribution is widespread.

High-intensity flu has been reported across the state for the last three weeks. Frederick Memorial has been on red or yellow alert 17 times over the past month, which means that its emergency room is near capacity or that no cardiac-monitoring beds are available to patients.

During those periods, patients are generally diverted to the next closest hospital unless they're in critical condition, said Jim Brown, director of educational support services for MIEMSS.

"We sent out the alert about emergency rooms because we reached a really high level across the state and it seemed like the flu season had peaked," Brown said. "We were seeing that flu was the reason most people were coming in."

Copyright 2018 The Frederick News-Post

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