Proactive Rather Than Reactive – Michigan Hospitals Limit Who Visits Facilities

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Recently, a hospital in Michigan modified visitation hours, banning children 13 years and younger from visiting the facility. A news release written by the hospital explained why:

“We apologize for the inconvenience… All Beaumont Health hospitals are experiencing high volumes of patients with respiratory viral illness, predominantly influenza. For the safety of our patients and staff, visitation by children under 13 years of age is limited to extraordinary circumstances, such as severe illness of parent or sibling, or end-of-life situation.”

Firestorm Expert Council member, Dr. Don Donahue, provides his insights into the decision.

The suspension of hospital visitation for children younger than 13 years of age is not as unusual as it may seem. As occurs annually, influenza is epidemic and the CDC is reporting widespread flu activity in 49 states. What is noteworthy is that this season’s predominant strain, H3N2, is more virulent than those in recent years, resulting in higher hospitalization and death rates. Some states have reported seven-fold increases in these events.

But why focus on children? That answer is simple, as children pose a risk both to themselves and to others. Like most strains of influenza, H3N2 is particularly dangerous for children and the elderly. These populations lack complex immunity that can protect from the flu; children because their immunity has yet to fully develop from multiple exposures and the elderly because immunity weakens as we age. The simple act of being in the hospital facility can expose children to influenza from patients with the disease, people visiting, or staff working in the hospital. Because influenza is communicable before symptoms appear, any place where people congregate can be a source of infection, hospitals included.

The opposite is also true. One place where people gather is a school. Children assembled in close quarters, the environments of which are closed to the winter weather, form a perfect storm of communicability. A child (or faculty, for that matter) can become infected and convey the virus to others when visiting a hospital. The presence of especially vulnerable people – the very young, the elderly, pregnant women, and those with suppressed immune systems (including transplant recipients and those undergoing chemotherapy) – creates a significant danger of contracting a potentially deadly disease.

Hospitals seeing a marked uptick in flu patients, children being both carriers of and at risk for influenza, and the presence of those who are particularly susceptible to the disease point to limiting access for the time being. There is no way to predict how long this flu season will last. Even if it is more than half over, there still remains a risk of contracting the disease. The CDC estimates the effectiveness of this year’s flu shot at approximately 32%. Given the potential seriousness of the disease, which has generated some 20 pediatric deaths so far this flu season, a one in three chance of avoiding it is a prudent investment. And remember, even if you “never get the flu,” you may be giving it to someone else. It is a good idea to protect those who cannot protect themselves.

To learn more about communicable illness, download our paper, Communicable Illness – The Heavyweights Weigh In. This twenty-two page document covers every aspect you must consider when responding to a medical epidemic or pandemic.

With contributions by an expert panel comprised of Dr. Donald Donahue JR., DHEd, MBA, FACHE, Dr. Steve Cunnion MD, PhD, MPH, Captain in the US Navy Medical Corps (Ret.) and President of International Consultants in Health, Inc., Katrin “Kathy” Schatz, Principal, Jackson Lewis P.C, and employment law expert and led by Firestorm Co-Founders Suzy Loughlin, and Jim Satterfield, this paper is a natural follow-up to stress tests and tabletop exercises, and contains key analyses and next-step recommendations regarding communicable illness plans and procedures.  Download the no-fee paper here.

Dr. Donald Donahue JR., DHEd, MBA, FACHE, Lieutenant Colonel (Ret), is as an Advisory Member to the American Academy of Disaster Medicine

With more than 30 years experience as a healthcare administrator in the military, government and private sectors, Dr. Donahue is a recognized expert in healthcare operations, medical readiness, medical and dental readiness, emergency preparedness, and bioterrorism. He applies an innovative approach to program development, operational analysis, and marketing solutions. Learn more about Dr. Donahue here.

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