Don’t get the flu

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends health care workers receive immunization for influenza to protect co-workers, families and patients. Having the flu is bad. Giving the flu to a family member, co-worker or an immune compromised patient is worse.

In January, MHA surveyed hospitals on staff immunization policies and rates. Last flu season, more than 50 percent of hospitals reported that 95 to 100 percent of their employees were vaccinated against seasonal influenza. Only 12 percent had a vaccination rate of less than 70 percent. At that time, nearly 80 percent of hospitals had mandatory influenza vaccination programs in place to protect patients and health care providers. Efforts have continued throughout 2013 to advocate for employee vaccination; MHA will again survey hospitals in early 2014 to assess progress.

This week is National Influenza Vaccination Week. The CDC and other professional and advocacy organizations continue to urge full vaccination among health care workers. Many hospitals are already demonstrating leadership on influenza through mandatory vaccination programs — not just for front line caregivers but for all staff. This makes sense for two reasons. First, patients should have a reasonable expectation that they won’t leave a hospital sick or get sick in a hospital. Second, influenza can create significant absenteeism in the workforce — exactly when emergency department and inpatient admissions for the flu are peaking and caregivers are needed.

During the 2012-2013 flu season, only 41.5 percent of adults and 56.6 percent of children received influenza vaccination. That’s far too few.

Nationally, between 3,000 and 49,000 individuals die from seasonal influenza annually. In most cases, the victims are seniors 65 and older. Sadly, many of these deaths are preventable through immunization.

The data and results in terms of workplace protection are clear. But, just think about the population health benefits from the flu vaccine. I’ve not seen any data on its impact, but MHA has produced reports noting the population health value of other immunizations. Their most recent report, which tracks the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality’s prevention quality indicators over the past decade, shows that in 2005, Missourians 65 and older experienced the single largest one year increase in pneumonia vaccination. This 3 percent increase in 2005 resulted in a 13.1 percent reduction in hospitalizations for bacterial pneumonia in the same period.

Hospitals have a responsibility to demonstrate leadership on the importance of influenza vaccinations within our communities. We know that vaccination works. What’s more, flu vaccine is widely available and inexpensive. As new payment models focus on population health management, prevention and health management will become ever more important. Beginning in 2014, acute care hospitals’ vaccination rate will be reported on Hospital Compare. Other hospitals’ data will be reported in the near future.

Our target should be 100 percent vaccination of hospital employees. It sends an important message to patients and our communities — we take immunization, population health and patient safety seriously.

I’ve been vaccinated. Have you?

About Craig Thompson

I am a young professional with two great sons, and I work in the healthcare setting. I am employed in hospital administration and serve as Chief Executive Officer at Golden Valley Memorial Healthcare in Clinton, Missouri. At GVMH we care for our families, friends and neighbors. We're committed to providing the safest, friendliest and most compassionate care to all we serve.
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