Visitors to New Hanover Regional Medical Center in North Carolina on Wednesday, January 15, 2014 were greeted by signs asking them not to visit if they had not had a flu shot or were experiencing flu-like symptoms, including coughing, fever, sore throat, runny nose, fatigue, headaches and chills. Patients visiting the hospital for treatment were asked to wear masks if they had not had their flu shot, or if they exhibited any flu symptoms.
In Ohio, hospitals are doing the same thing after the Greater Cincinnati Health Council discovered a spike in cases of the flu, as well as pertussis (whooping cough) throughout Ohio. According to Tonda Francis, vice president of the Greater Cincinnati Health Council, “Winter brings an increase in a number of respiratory illnesses, not just flu, and this year we have the added concern over the spread of pertussis.” She adds that the policy of asking visitors to stay home if they have not had their flu shot, or it they exhibit flu-like symptoms is entirely for the benefit of the patients being treated at the facility. She states, “Although we know it’s difficult for family members and friends to not be able to visit their loved ones in the hospital, we also know visitors wouldn’t want to make their loved ones even sicker than they already are.”
If You Haven’t Had Your Flu Shot, Don’t Visit
Why is this policy being put in place? Influenza, which especially affects small children and senior citizens, has hospitalized a record number of people in Ohio in 2014. And, influenza hospitalization cases are up all across the country too. Because of this, hospitals are taking the extra precautions to protect both the workers and patients during flu season. Hospitals in Ohio discontinued this flu policy in March, 2014, as flu season wound to a close.
And, hospitals can have some expectation that these strict vaccination policies will be supported within the judicial system. New York City’s policy that “bars unimmunized children from public school when another student has a vaccine-preventable disease” has just been upheld by a judge. This ruling comes after three families had children barred from school for a month or longer after their families refused to immunize them for religious reasons.
Communities are beginning to see the results of low vaccination rates, and hospitals are wise to take note. Proponents of barring children without immunizations from public school cite Ohio as an example of what can happen without vaccinations. In Ohio in 2000, three times as many religious and philosophical exemptions were granted for kindergarten students, and now the state of Ohio is struggling to contain a measles outbreak that even spread into Ohio’s Amish community.
The bottom line is that restricting visitors without flu vaccinations from hospitals increases patient safety and creates a safer and more secure environment for patients. And, at the end of the day, it’s all about patient care and safety.

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