As flu season is under way, hospitals and health care facilities should consider mandating that all of their employees receive influenza vaccinations, maintains the National Business Group on Health, a nonprofit organization that is focused on representing large employers' perspective on national health policy issues. By receiving annual flu vaccinations, employees in these health care facilities are less likely to infect other employees and their families but also patients, who are already more susceptible to the flu because of their sicknesses.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that only 63.5 percent of employees at health care facilities received the flu vaccination during the 2010-11 flu season, which Helen Darling, president and CEO of NBGH, believes just isn’t enough. There also are other studies that show one in four health care workers shows evidence of having the flu annually, and 70 percent of health care personnel still work while experiencing flu-like symptoms.
“Transmission of seasonal influenza between health care workers and patients is a significant patient and worker safety issue,” Darling says. “Failure to prevent the transmission of seasonal flu between health care workers and patients also increases health costs.”
Darling believes hospitals and other health care facilities should mandate that all employees receive annual flu vaccinations as a condition of their employment. The only exception to this would be if an employee can document medical contraindications backed by a physician or if it violated religious beliefs. If an employee were to cite either of these exemptions, he or she should not directly interact with patients if flu-like symptoms are present. In these cases, a hospital or health care facility should reassign the infected employee to nonpatient care areas or require that employee to wear a mask at all times when working with patients during flu season.
“Requiring flu vaccinations for hospital personnel is the right thing to do,” Darling says. ”Hospitals have an obligation to prevent the spread of infection to patients in their care. It’s a fitness for duty issue. At the same time, patients have the right to assume that health care personnel and the organizations that employ them will take all reasonable measures to reduce and avoid transmission of preventable diseases, including the flu.”
In addition to NBGH, many other physicians, hospitals and health care organizations advocate policies that require a hospital or health care facility worker to receive his or her flu shot. Among those supporting this policy are the American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Physicians, American Hospital Association, Department of Defense and the NationalPatient SafetyFoundation.
In some cases, hospital and health care facility employees have complained that obligatory vaccinations undermine their privacy and individual rights, says Dr. John Santa, director of the Health Ratings Center for Consumer Reports. However, he believes this puts patients second, which is contrary to why people typically enter the health care industry.
“Patients expect health care workers to take reasonable steps to protect them from disease, and the flu vaccine seems a very low-risk preventive step to take,” Santa says.