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Visitor policy changes at Cooley-Dickinson Hospital

Due to the rising number of influenza cases this fall, many hospitals in the region have re-evaluated their visitation policies. As a measure to help preserve public health and the safety and well-being of inpatients and visitors, Cooley-Dickinson Hospital in Northampton is the most recent hospital to implement a change to its policy.

The hospital announced that effective Monday, Nov. 9, there would be new restrictions to visitation. These measures were initiated to provide safe environments for patients, staff and visitors. The policy changes consist of an age requirement of 18-years-old for visitors, a ban on sick visitors and limiting the number of guests allowed near the patient’s bedside. The policy states that only those guests necessary for the patient’s comfort will be permitted to be near their bed.

To minimize the spread of the flu in the community, Cooley-Dickinson also suggests not bringing children to hospital appointments to minimize the number of people in the waiting rooms. It is recommended that patients come alone for hospital appointments.

These policies will be in place during the entire flu season, which lasts until May. As always, the hospital recommends washing hands frequently, keeping hand sanitizer available and avoiding close contact with others in the event of illness.

According to Christina Trinchero, the senior director of marketing and communications at Cooley-Dickinson, “the hospital saw 10 cases of flu in September and 40 cases in October.”

Dr. Joanne Levin, a medical director and infection prevention specialist at Cooley-Dickinson, said the hospital’s visitation policies will be in effect while the flu is affecting the area’s children.

They will last “as long as flu is circulating widely among the children of our community,” she said, “hopefully this will be a relatively short time.”

Levin said patients should encourage only healthy family and friends to see them while they are hospitalized and should heartily enforce hand-washing practices.

“(Patients) can ask friends and family who are sick not to visit and to adhere to our visitation policy,” she said. “They can watch to be sure their care-giver washes his or her hands before giving care; it’s okay to ask someone to wash their hands if they see someone has forgotten,” she continued.

Levin said there are as yet no reliable figures on the number of flu cases in the area.

“We don’t have an accurate and quick test for this flu,” she said, advising citizens that “the best information for the nation and New England is found on the CDC website.”

Levin said that there is an age restriction for hospital visitors because, “this flu preferentially infects younger people.”

She added that hospital staff is taking precautions to curtail the spread of the flu.

“We are encouraging all direct care givers to be immunized, as supply is available,” she said. “The response has been very good, as staff have been clamoring for vaccines, though we have not yet had enough for everyone.”

“As always, good hand hygiene is of prime importance to limiting the spread of a variety of infections,” said Levin.

Levin said the general public should take the flu seriously and get rest in the event of feeling sick.

“Stay home if you are sick,” she cautioned, “wash your hands frequently when out in public, don’t visit others who are sick with the flu, if possible.”

Levin said this is the first time Cooley-Dickinson has put such restrictions in place.

“Not that I am aware of,” she said when asked about restrictions, “but this flu is different.”

Levin said the efficacy of the new measure will be difficult to track but that she hopes ultimately it will lead to no patients developing flu while in the hospital.

“(Tracking the policy) will be difficult to measure,” she said, “I am hoping to see very little, if any, flu inpatients who did not come in with it, especially in infants and moms.”

For more information on the visiting policy at Cooley-Dickinson Hospital visit www.cooley-dickinson.org.

Jessica Bonheur can be reached at jbonheur@student.umass.edu.

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