Phoebe Institutes New Visitation Guidelines As Public Health Investigates Possible Flu Death

Staff Report From Albany CEO

Monday, January 29th, 2018

As the flu season continues to worsen throughout Georgia and most of the country, the Director of the Southwest Health District says the outbreak has reached epidemic proportions in our area.  “We are concerned about the amount of illness and the number of hospitalizations throughout our 14-county district, and we are now investigating the possibility of the first flu death in the district,” said Director Charles D. Ruis, MD.  
According to Dr. Ruis, flu deaths nationwide normally fluctuate from 5,000 to 50,000 each year.  The Department of Public Health has confirmed 12 flu-related deaths so far in Georgia, compared with only 9 all of last year.  “While this flu season is more active than we have seen in several years, there is no evidence that the death rate is higher than usual in our district so far,” Ruis said.  “That is something to be thankful for even as we express our condolences to anyone who may lose a loved one due to the flu,” Ruis said.
At the urging of the Southwest Health District, all Phoebe hospitals are instituting new visitation restrictions to protect patients, visitors and staff and to try to reduce the spread of the illness.  The following changes are effective immediately.
·         Visiting hours will be from 7 a.m. – 7 p.m.

·         No one under the age of 18 should come to the hospital except for medical treatment.

·         No one exhibiting symptoms of the flu should visit the hospital.  Postpone all visits until you are symptom-free for 24 hours.

·         All visitors will be asked to wear masks.

·         Anyone visiting a patient in isolation will be asked to wear personal protective gear such as a gown, mask and gloves.
Dr. Steven Kitchen, Phoebe Chief Medical Officer, stressed the restrictions are designed to protect the public during this unusually severe flu season.  “We apologize for any inconvenience these new visitation restrictions may cause, but we must do all we can to minimize the spread of the flu.  We will continue to work closely with the health department to make sure we are doing all we can to protect people from this dangerous illness,” Dr. Kitchen said.  Phoebe will lift the restrictions as soon as it is safe to do so.
Even though we are well into flu season, it is not too late to get a flu shot.  “The flu shot may be imperfect, but it is still the best method to prevent the illness,” Dr. Ruis said.  “Vaccines are readily available throughout our district, and the shot is free for most anyone with insurance or Medicaid and is low-cost, if you have to pay out-of-pocket,” Ruis added.
The Southwest Public Health District and Phoebe urge all southwest Georgians to abide by the following advice for the remainder of flu season.
·         Avoid contact with people who have the flu.

·         Seek medical attention quickly if you develop symptoms.  Antiviral medication may shorten the severity and duration of the flu if you contract the illness.

·         If you are sick, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone, except to get medical care or other necessities.

·         Cover your nose and your mouth when you cough or sneeze.

·         Wash your hands often with soap and water.  Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if you are unable to wash your hands.

·         Avoid touching your eyes, mouth and nose to prevent germs from spreading.

·         Clean and disinfect frequently-touched surfaces and objects.