New Hospital Policies Increase Health Care Worker Flu Immunization

November 9, 2010

Goal is Protecting Patients from Influenza

SEATTLE, Nov. 9, 2010 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Ninety-four of Washington State’s 98 hospitals have adopted new policies requiring their health care workers to either get immunized against the flu or take another patient protective action as determined by the hospital’s infection control program. These policies are dramatically increasing the number of immunized hospital workers.

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Washington is the first state in the nation where nearly all hospitals have jointly adopted flu immunization policies. The hospitals that have adopted the policies operate 99 percent of inpatient hospital beds in Washington State. The policies are currently being implemented across the state, and will be in effect this fall and winter during the flu season.

Washington State hospitals are committed to stopping hospital-acquired infections, including influenza. Influenza is always a serious disease, but for hospital patients – premature infants, vulnerable seniors, and people with significant health issues – getting the flu can be life-threatening. Across the country, 200,000 people are hospitalized with seasonal influenza and as many as 50,000 people die every year.

“Even when health care workers feel fine, they can actually be getting the flu and can transmit the virus to their patients, their co-workers, and their families. Studies show a high percentage of health care workers continue working with influenza. A big step to stamping out influenza transmission in the hospital is to make sure our caregivers are vaccinated against it,” said John Fletcher, senior vice president & chief executive of Providence Health & Services in Washington/Montana and chair of the hospital association’s Patient Safety Committee.

Voluntary flu immunization campaigns have resulted in immunization rates below 50 percent for health care workers across the country. The board of trustees of the Washington State Hospital Association urged the association to take aggressive action to dramatically increase the number of hospital staff immunized and, as a result, to stop the spread of influenza in Washington’s hospitals. This year’s near-universal adoption of flu vaccination programs is the result.

Hospitals are working to make getting vaccinated easy, with roving flu carts, open immunization clinics on every shift, and providing vaccine free of charge. Alternate actions unvaccinated workers may be asked to take to protect patients include wearing a mask while working with patients, being re-assigned to non-patient care duties, or being sent home from work during an influenza outbreak.

Several hospitals in Washington State, including Virginia Mason Medical Center, MultiCare Health System, and Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital have instituted similar policies in recent years. The results have been remarkable, with significant increases in the number of vaccinated health care workers. For example, Virginia Mason Medical Center now has more than 99 percent of workers vaccinated.

Washington’s immunization program is receiving strong support:

“Influenza is a very dangerous illness in our country and kills tens of thousands of people each year. Hospital patients are particularly vulnerable to being seriously harmed or even killed by the flu. Immunization is a proven strategy to stop influenza transmission, and the CDC urges all health care workers to get their flu shots annually.”

  • Centers for Disease Control & Prevention

“Health care workers, including doctors and nurses, have a responsibility to get a flu shot each year to prevent infecting their patients. It is shocking that many of them don’t. That is why Consumers Union supports requiring immunization as the first line of defense against spreading the flu bug and we support Washington hospitals’ efforts to ensure all health care workers are immunized.”

  • Lisa McGiffert, Stop Hospital Infections Campaign Manager, Consumers Union

“The Washington State Medical Association supports the Washington State Hospital Association’s commitment to decrease morbidity from flu by encouraging immunization in their work force and implementing infection prevention activities; and encourages all Washington physicians to receive appropriate and timely influenza vaccination and to encourage their office staff and patients likewise to receive such immunization.”

  • Washington State Medical Association Resolution

Further resources:

See a list of hospitals participating in the flu campaign.

Read the full implementation toolkit including journal articles supporting vaccination.

SOURCE Washington State Hospital Association

Source: newswire

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