Major Indianapolis hospitals announce a drastic policy change that will no doubt change the way the Indianapolis health operates this flu season. St. Vincent Health will no longer allow Indianapolis kids younger than 15 to visit its facilities in the Circle City in an effort to contain the spread of the H1N1 virus. Clarian Health will only extend visiting hours to spouses, domestic partners, parents and spiritual counselors in their Indianapolis downtown hospitals. Indianapolis kids will only be allowed to visit in special and extreme cases.
These Indianapolis health visitations restrictions were announced on Tuesday and enacted voluntarily by hospitals and Indianapolis health officials. Other hospitals in central Indiana cities are expected to institute similar visiting limits.
New restrictions are in place as early as today at St. Francis Hospital. But Wishard Health Services and Community Health Network have yet to restrict Indianapolis kids from visitation rights.
Dr. Virgina Caine, Director of the Marion County Health Department, said that the Indianapolis health department’s advisory group will meet in the coming weeks to discuss whether this plan should be mandatory for all hospitals in Indy. All Marion County hospitals are in agreement that if a plan is enacted, they all will comply.
On the same day these policies were enacted, the state of Indiana received its first doses of the H1N1 vaccine. A spokesperson for the Indiana State Department of Health said that about half of Indiana counties currently have the vaccine.
Marion County, in the Indianapolis metro area, has about 9,800 injections and 4,000 nasal spray doses, enough for about two weeks. A decision from Indianapolis health officials on how the vaccines will be distributed is expected to be announced today.
It is not entirely uncommon for hospitals to restrict visitation when flu season hits its peak each year, which usually occurs in Winter. However, with the intense outbreak of H1N1 virus across the United States this Fall, emergency rooms are already crowded with patients exhibiting flu-like symptoms. The Indianapolis health system has scarce other options for keeping the H1N1 virus contained.
The number of patients in Marion County emergency rooms with flu-like symptoms is at a record for this time of year, more than 7 percent of total visitors. More than a quarter of those in the Indianapolis Health system tested positive for influenza A, including the H1N1 virus. Since 2005, the only comparable peak occurred in February of 2008, when only 20 percent tested positive for the H1N1 virus.
“It’s not new; it’s just that we’re implementing it a lot earlier,” said Dr. John Christenson, director of the Ryan White Center for Pediatric Infectious Disease at Riley Hospital for Kids in Indianapolis. “Right now we’re in the middle of the H1N1 virus pandemic in our community. . . . Because of the magnitude of it and the severity that we’re seeing, we want to do the best we can to minimize its spread.”
Generally restrictions like these are lifted after only a few weeks. But it is as yet unclear what will happen with this years record flu epidemic. Indianapolis health is bracing itself for a wide spread season of the H1N1 virus.
“It’s premature,” said Dr. Robert Lubitz, coordinator of emergency preparedness at St. Vincent. “In previous pandemics, viral infections have come in waves. This may continue for several weeks and even years.”
For now Indianapolis health officials are simply doing what they can to off set the spread of the H1N1 virus, which for now means Indianapolis kids are not welcome in area hospitals.