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Influenza Guidelines Q&A

January 1, 2013

To protect our high-risk patients from the flu (elderly, infants, children and pregnant women), in conjunction with Des Moines hospitals (Iowa Methodist, Iowa Lutheran, Blank Children’s and Methodist West and Mercy) have implemented enhanced visitor guidelines this flu season.

What are our new visitor guidelines?
Our new guidelines, which are for all units of our hospitals, are:

  •     No more than two visitors at a time.
  •     Visitors need to be 18 years of age and older (including siblings).
  •     Exceptions may be made for cases involving critically-ill patients or end-of-life situations.

Are the guidelines permanent?
No. These guidelines are temporary, and in effect for the flu season. They are subject to change as necessary. We anticipate going back to regular visitor guidelines late winter/early spring. We will continue to partner with the Iowa Department of Public Health and the Boone County Health Department to monitor the status of influenza and its potential impact on our patients. We will continue to review our visitation polices and adjust accordingly.

Why are we enhancing our guidelines?
While we are an organization committed to family-centered care, our first priority is to protect our patients. We believe by limiting visitors we can more effectively protect our patients from influenza illnesses. We also want to protect you – our staff. This flu season we need our staff to be healthy. By limiting your exposure we hope to help keep our staff healthy.

Who else is restricting guidelines?
Numerous hospitals across the state and nation are using similar visitor guidelines this flu season, including all Des Moines hospitals.

What if visitors are not following our guidelines?
While staff members are encouraged to inform our patients, families and visitors of our guidelines, they are not expected to enforce the guidelines. We know our patient care staff is busy – especially this flu season – so they are not expected to escort visitors out of patient rooms or to call security. We believe that once visitors are informed of our guidelines, and why we are doing this, they will comply.

Are parents of a child considered visitors?
We encourage parents to be present at all times with their child, and parents are not considered visitors. However, in order to minimize the risk of illness we still request no more than two visitors at a time with the patient.

What if visitors are coughing or showing signs of illness?
All visitors need to be in good health. If staff member see visitors coughing or sneezing, they may request the visitor to wear a mask, or request the visitor leave the patient care area. Visitors should refrain from visiting if they have had flu-like symptoms during the past seven days. Those symptoms according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) include:

  •     Fever 100º degrees Fahrenheit or higher, and
  •     Cough, and/or
  •     Sore throat.

What else can I do to help protect our patients?

Please encourage all visitors and family members to wash their hands with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand foam/gel upon entering and exiting a patient’s room. If they are visiting an ill patient, you may request them to wear a mask. Masks are provided for patient protection as well as for those around the patient, and the masks help prevent the spread of flu-like illnesses.

What about parents who bring a sibling along to the hospital because they do not have child care?
While children younger than 18 are currently restricted, legally we can not make a parent leave their hospitalized child – even if that means they have a sibling with them. If a family chooses to not follow our recommended guidelines, the sibling/child needs to remain in the patient room. If the sibling is symptomatic, he/she will be asked to wear a mask when leaving the patient room. Encourage the family to practice good hand washing and stay out of close contact with the patient.

What if a patient has been in the hospital a long time, and unable to see siblings/children/grandchildren, and the patient’s spirits are low?
Exceptions may be made if it is determined to benefit the well-being of a patient and/or the family member. Please make sure those children visiting are in good health before making an exception.

Patients and families are asking me where to go if they are sick. What do I tell them?
Encourage all people who are feeling ill to contact their primary care provider by phone to determine if they need to be seen by appointment, if they need to go to the emergency department or if their illness can be triaged over the phone.

Where can I direct people for more information about influenza?
More information about seasonal influenza is available by visiting the Iowa Department of Public Health Web site at:

What information will be available on campus for visitors?
We are currently working on a flyer with the visitor guidelines for staff to hand out if visitors have questions. Also, we will be installing signage this week with information about how to protect our patients, and information about our visitor guidelines.

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