A pair of hospitals in Cumberland and Salem counties are limiting visits to mother-baby units to protect some of their most vulnerable patients from the flu.
The restrictions apply to the pediatrics, labor and delivery, mother-baby and nursery units at South Jersey Healthcare Regional Medical Center in Vineland.
South Jersey Healthcare, which operates the Vineland facility, also imposed the restrictions at its South Jersey Healthcare Elmer Hospital.
The health-care system is banning visits to those units by anyone under age 18, except for those who are the parents of a child or a patient’s primary support person. Visitations are also limited to parents, grandparents and primary support persons. All visitors must be free of any flu-like symptoms.
South Jersey Healthcare spokeswoman Diana Gervasi said the system took the “proactive step forward” because this year’s flu virus is “most prevalent in children.” The system’s hospitals, like many other medical outlets in the region, are “at or near capacity for inpatient admissions” and “longer (emergency room) wait times are common,” she said.
No information was available on just how many hospitals are implementing similar bans.
However, officials with Atlanticare, which operates hospitals in Atlantic City and Galloway Township in Atlantic County, and Cape Regional Medical Center in Cape May County, said they have implemented no visitation bans because of the flu.
Atlanticare spokeswoman Jennifer Tornetta said the system’s hospitals are posting signs that outline flu systems and ask people not to make hospital visits if they are sick.
“We would hope that people use their heads” when deciding to visit patients, Cape Regional Medical Center spokeswoman Susan Staeger said.
The bans implemented by South Jersey Healthcare come at a time when the state Department of Health and Senior Services is reporting a heightened status for the flu in New Jersey.
The department reports that all five monitoring regions in the state reported high flu activity for the weeks ending Jan. 12 and Saturday. That high flu activity status has been in place for a six-week period ending Saturday. The last time the department reported a moderate flu activity designation for the state was the week ending Dec. 8.
Department statistics also show that people with flu-like symptoms made up about 2 percent of emergency room visits on Sept. 1. That percentage increased to almost 9 percent as of Saturday.
The number of those emergency room visitors admitted to hospitals during that time also increased from slightly more than 1 percent to between 4 percent and 5 percent, the statistics show.
“New Jersey’s health-care facilities and medical officers continue to see large number of visits due to influenza-like illnesses,” state Health Commissioner Mary E. O’Dowd said in a statement. “The good news is that the vaccine is a very good match for the strains of flu that are circulating in the community right now.”
As for the South Jersey Healthcare visitation ban, officials with the system said in a statement that they will re-evaluate it regularly as the flu season progresses. They also said they try to provide advance notice to patients and visitors if further restrictions are necessary.
“However, due to the emergent nature and seriousness of the flu, changes may need to be made quickly,” the statement reads.
Persons with questions about visitations at the Vineland and Elmer hospitals can call Maternal Child Health Director Marge Pollack at 856-641-8171, Patient Relations Director Tina Arcidiacono at 856-641-7771, or Infection Control Director Tim Bowers at 856-641-7590.
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