Most youths to face restrictions in Middle Georgia hospitals

Children already are banned from meeting new siblings in maternity wards. Starting Monday, several Middle Georgia hospitals will prevent children younger than 17 from visiting patients, part of an effort to control the spread of the swine flu virus.

“It’s to protect the patients as well as the staff,” said Barbara Stickel, the chief nursing officer for The Medical Center of Central Georgia.

The ban takes effect Nov. 2 there, as well as at Coliseum’s main and Northside hospitals and Houston Healthcare’s Warner Robins and Perry medical centers. The changes are designed to guard against the swine flu virus as well as seasonal influenza.

Youths are more likely to get sick and spread the flu, health officials said.

Dr. David Harvey, medical director for the North Central Health District, said the visitation changes are necessary to protect hospital patients who, already sick, are at more risk from dying from swine flu. Three women — one each from Bibb, Jones and Monroe counties — have died with swine flu, said Jennifer Jones, a spokeswoman for the health district. All of them had other underlying medical problems, she said.

One of the patients died at Coliseum Northside Hospital in September, an official there said. It wasn’t clear where the other patients had died, and the state has a policy against releasing detailed information.

Harvey said that while basic precautions such as hand washing and covering coughs and sneezes can reduce the spread of swine flu, the virus could have terrible effects.

“We may be facing the worst health disaster or the worst health conditions since polio in the ’ 50s,” he said.

While swine flu has been in the news a lot, the state says the virus has had only a mild to moderate spread so far.

The hospitals’ chief nursing officers said they could make other changes if the flu strikes hard. President Obama’s declaration of a national flu emergency cleared the way for some unusual measures, such as creating emergency rooms off campus from the hospitals. Officials also have discussed putting patients with flu-like symptoms together.

In working together on flu policies, the hospitals hope to limit the spread of the virus and make things simpler for people to understand. It wasn’t clear when the policy would be discontinued. Flu season typically ends in March or April, but swine flu has been different.

“The H1N1 started in April,” Harvey said.

Merita Burney, chief nursing officer at Coliseum Medical Centers, said her hospital began prohibiting older siblings from maternity wards about a month ago. Babies can’t get flu vaccines until they’re 6 months old, and babies and pregnant women are more at risk for flu complications.

Families will be united when the baby arrives home, and administrators found just one person who had a problem with the policy.

“Everybody wants to protect their newborn,” she said.

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.