According to the CDC, 17 states have enacted some type of immunization law that requires healthcare workers to receive annual flu vaccinations.  As the number of immunization laws continues to increase every year, many facilities are, or soon will be, requiring all medical and administrative staff to be vaccinated for flu as a condition of employment.
In August 2009, the Influenza Patient Safety Program went into effect at the Hospital Corp. of America (HCA). It all began with a letter from upper management that laid out goals and expectations for influenza vaccinations. Since then, HCA has gone from a 58% vaccination rate to more than 90% over three years, beating out the industry standard of just two-thirds of hospital employees being vaccinated against influenza.
Their reasoning? “A healthy woman should not come in to deliver a baby and leave with the flu, and a critically ill patient should not bear the risk,” says Jonathan B. Perlin, MD, HCA’s chief medical officer. And HCA isn’t satisfied with their more than 90% vaccination rate. Even though they’re well above the industry standard, HCA wants 100% of their employees to be vaccinated against influenza.
How did HCA do it? The letter detailing goals and expectations kicked off the campaign, but there were several facets involved in getting such a high vaccination rate. HCA first gave their employees a choice: get their free seasonal flu shot or wear a mask. Then, to protect patients, HCA adjusted work flows so that unvaccinated employees would have less contact with patients. They also backed up their program with education, which helped fight resistance among employees. “A lot of education and discussion helped people understand how harmful the flu is,” Dr. Perlin said. “I have had employees call me and say, ‘Infection from patients is an acceptable and unavoidable occupational hazard, but infection from colleagues is an avoidable, unacceptable hazard.’”
HCA is not alone in moving towards requiring flu shots for healthcare employees. Hospitals are recognizing that patients come in with an elevated risk of serious complications or death should they contract influenza, and the facilities want to avoid putting workers possibly carrying the flu right at their bedside. The effects of having non-vaccinated employees, especially in intensive and critical care wings of hospitals can be devastating for the patients. Case in point: Two patients in a New York hospital’s bone marrow wing contracted the flu and died in 1998, and 25 others contracted the flu because their healthcare workers were not vaccinated.
Most hospital administrators fear a mass exodus of employees should they impose a mandatory flu vaccination policy. However, hospitals are encouraged to find that few employees are leaving as a result of required flu vaccinations. A Reptrax hospital, Loyola University Medical Center in Illinois, was one of the first to adopt such a policy. In 2009, when it started, only one in every 8,000 of their employees left. Johns Hopkins is another example of a successful implementation of a mandatory flu vaccination policy. When it implemented the policy, they saw less than 1% of their employees leave as a result.
Requiring flu vaccinations for healthcare employees is certainly a step in the right direction for patient safety. With the correct approach, including education and accessibility, healthcare employees will be able to embrace mandatory flu vaccinations as beneficial for both themselves and their patients. And remember, IntelliCentrics can help you monitor your flu vaccination rates. With SEC3URETM, you will be able to apply your flu policies consistently and universally across all the staff in your facility, both medical and non-medical.


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