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Rice implements new visitor restrictions to combat flu

WILLMAR -- Rice Memorial Hospital in Willmar has introduced new visitor restrictions to protect patients from exposure to influenza.

Beginning Tuesday afternoon, visiting was limited to close family only. Visitors will be asked to wear masks and wash their hands or use hand sanitizer before entering a patient's room. They must wash or sanitize their hands before leaving a room, too.

The restrictions are even tighter for the third floor, where Maternity and Pediatrics departments are located. There, visitors will be asked to stop at the nurses' desk before visiting a patient's room. Visitors will be asked to use masks and clean their hands before and after entering rooms on the third floor, too.

People coming to the hospital for medical care will be asked to put on masks if they have any flu-like symptoms, including a fever of 100 degrees or higher, sore throat, cough or body aches. They will also be asked to wear masks if they have had contact with someone who has or is thought to have the flu.

"We really want to protect the patients," said Barb Piasecki, an infection control nurse at Rice.

"They are in a vulnerable position."

The hospital's emergency room has been seeing a lot of patients who are testing positive for flu, Piasecki said. Not all patients are further tested to see if their flu is the swine flu virus, though.

"I think we're just looking at overall numbers," she said. "Everybody's taking extra precautions."

The limitations on the third floor should help protect children and babies, especially those who aren't old enough to be vaccinated for the flu.

Another goal, she said, is to "make people more aware and take stock of how they're feeling," Piasecki said.

If they have any signs of the flu, people should not be visiting someone in the hospital, she said.

"Phone calls can be welcome also," she said.

Paynesville Area Health Care System has seen many flu cases in its emergency room and clinic, but not many of them have been admitted to the hospital, said Connie Osborne, who works in infection control at the hospital.

Hospital staff members meet daily to assess the situation, Osborne said. Anyone with any kind of illness is asked not to visit at all. If they must visit a loved one, they are asked to wear masks.

Many employees have family members ill at home, and they are wearing masks at work to try to control the spread. "We've gone a little farther with our employees than the visitors," Osborne said.

Swift County-Benson Hospital, Granite Falls Municipal Hospital and Chippewa County-Montevideo Hospital all have similar policies in effect.

They ask visitors who have symptoms of the flu or who may have been exposed to the flu to stay home, but they have not made major changes to their visitor policies.

Hospitals have hand sanitizer and masks available at their entrances.

In Benson, Holly Rodahl, infection preventionist, said the hospital has not admitted anyone with the H1N1 novel influenza virus. Any such patient would be placed in isolation and would have limited visitors. Protocols would be put in place for hospital staff and visitors who come into contact with the patient.

For more information about flu and for visitor information at Rice, go to

-- Tribune Staff Writers David Little and Tom Cherveny contributed to the story.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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