UPDATE: Sick St. Francis employees could return to work Sunday

Posted at 6:33 PM, Jan 17, 2014
and last updated 2014-01-18 23:34:25-05

MIDLOTHIAN, Va. (WTVR) -- The sudden illness of several staff members at St. Francis Medical Center in Chesterfield County is leading to immediate intervention by the hospital to prevent the spread of a potential virus.

Mark M. Gordon, the CEO of the Bon Secours facility, says the virus, believed to be a gastrointestinal bug, is contained to the hospital’s surgical unit.

A spokeswoman for Bon Secours told CBS 6 that the sick employees could be returning to work on Sunday. However, a person claiming to be a hospital employee contacted CBS 6 Saturday night with health concerns.

The Bon Secours spokeswoman said that three patients were seen in the Emergency Department with gastrointestinal distress on Saturday, but said that number is no more than what the hospital had seen in the last couple of weeks.

The hospital spokeswoman said during the flu season, the hospital gives anyone who has flu like symptoms a mask to wear when they come in which is a common procedure for hospitals in the area.

The first staff members began calling in Wednesday night with symptoms of debilitating diarrhea, headaches, cramping and vomiting. By Friday morning, 30 hospital staff members had called in sick, while two went home early with similar symptoms.

While the health department and hospital are investigating the source of the outbreak, the Norovirus is widespread and has affected thousands of Central Virginians since before the holidays. The virus usually last 24 to 48 hours.

“We want our visitors and families to come and visit with our patients,” Gordon says. “The only trouble, of course, is you have kids who are in school, you have individuals who are in the community and go to work every day and they bring bugs into the hospital.”

Over the next 48 hours, the hospital will be scrubbing down and sanitizing the surgical unit. As an extra precaution, a special robot that emits ultraviolet rays, will also be used to sanitize rooms.

Sanitizing robots are the latest strategy being used by hospitals nationwide to kill viruses and bacteria, including superbugs, that can be resistant to normal sanitizing chemicals.

Over the weekend, emergency surgeries will be performed in other designated areas of the hospital, using staff from sister Bon Secours facilities.

By Monday, Gordon says the regular surgical unit should be ready for scheduled surgeries. Hospital staff members, physicians and visitors will also be screened for gastrointestinal illnesses, colds and the flu.

Stay with CBS 6 News and for updates on this story.