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Health System Restricts Young People from Facilities to Prevent H1N1

Les Masterson, for HealthLeaders Media, September 25, 2009

Preparing for a busy flu season, hospitals are looking for ways to prevent a larger outbreak and protect their vulnerable patients from coming down with a potentially fatal flu strain.

One hospital system that is taking extraordinary steps is Moses Cone Health System, which is not allowing visiting young people under the age of 18 in the system's lobbies, waiting rooms, and patient rooms. The multi-hospital system in Greensboro, NC, has decided to implement this policy because young people are more likely to catch the H1N1 flu virus, according to the health system.

"Every patient in our hospitals has a condition that would make them more vulnerable should they catch the flu," said Joan Wessman, chief nursing officer at Moses Cone Health System. "Doing everything possible to avoid exposing them to the flu is a common-sense way we can all help keep them safe."

The decision comes three months after a staff member may have unknowingly exposed babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Moses Cone's The Women's Hospital of Greensboro during a 12-hour period.

The infected person, a respiratory therapist, believed she had recovered from cold symptoms and did not know she had been in contact with an H1N1 patient. Moses Cone said the employer acted appropriately.

The health system used the situation to remind staff about infectious disease protocols and gave newborns, NICU parents, and staff Tamiflu as a precaution; no infants were reportedly infected with H1N1.

"I know it is hard telling a child she can't meet her new brother or sister," said Cindy Farrand, vice president of administrator at Moses Cone's The Women's Hospital, about the new policy. "But the flu seems to be hitting young people the hardest, and they are the ones we need to protect the most."

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