People 18 and younger now banned from visiting
1:00 pm
Thu October 1, 2009

People 18 and younger now banned from visiting local hospitals

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention today said the H1N1 virus is now in all 50 states. Swine flu is a particular problem in the South, where some hospitals have set up tents to keep patients from spreading the virus.

Today in Charlotte, the region's two largest hospital chains began prohibiting visitors under the age of 18. WFAE's Julie Rose reports:

Until word really gets out about the new visitor policy prohibiting kids under 18, scenes like this are going to be pretty common in Charlotte hospitals.

"We have a grandmother that is with a sibling and the mother is upstairs with the patient," says Martha Whitecotton, an administrator at Charlotte's largest children's hospital, run by Carolinas HealthCare Systems. "When they came this morning, they didn't know about the restriction, but they were gracious about it."

That grandma isn't exactly thrilled to be stuck in the lobby, but her 5-year old grandson got some surgical gloves to play with, so he doesn't seem too put-out.

Whitecotton knows the visitor restrictions will be a bitter pill for many, but "it's definitely worth it, because when you look at the children across the nation who have died because of the flu, they are also children with other chronic illnesses. You know for every child I discharge alive, I know it worked."

The same is true for pregnant women, elderly patients and people with weak immune systems. The swine flu is prevalent among children . . . hence the visitation ban.

People like Kris Wright now have the hard job of turning families away. She's director of patient services for Presbyterian Hospitals:

"We don't want to stronghold anybody, we're not going to chase them down 'No you can't!' We're not going to do that," says Wright. "I don't want to deny grandma, who may be terminally ill from seeing her granddaughter, or granddaughter from seeing her grandma."

Other exceptions might include an emergency where a parent doesn't have time to get a babysitter, or a teenage mother visiting her own child.

But making too many exceptions defeat the purpose. So there will be situations where long-term patients may have to go months without seeing their kids or siblings.

Dr. Stephen Wallenhaupt says that's unfortunate. But as Chief Medical Officer of Presbyterian Hospital, he also sees new flu cases showing up in his ER everyday.

"So we'd like to be sure we are more cautious than necessary," says Wallenhaupt. "And then reflecting on that we'd like to say everyone did a good job of helping address this threat."

Wallenhaupt says the policy will stay in place until swine flu is no longer a significant threat. In the meantime, he prescribes a heavy dose of telephone and email contact to cut down on visitors who might bring the flu.

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