Hospital flu vaccination policies are a 'tough sell'

With pressures from regulatory agencies and goals of patient safety, more hospitals are taking a hard line on mandating flu vaccines for their workers. And those that refuse must wear masks or even risk losing their jobs.

At St. Joseph's Hospital in Syracuse, N.Y., all new hires must get an annual vaccination as a condition of their employment, which has boosted the hospital's vaccination rates from 60 percent last year to 80 percent. Workers also are encouraged to wear a badge that says they did receive the flu shot, Your News Now reported.

Those who are not vaccinated must wear masks to protect patients.

"Hospitalized people are at a much greater risk of serious consequences if they come down with the flu. And we know the flu is transmitted person to person, so if we can prevent our hospital staff from getting influenza, we can dramatically reduce the risk that they're going to give it to the patients," said St. Joseph's Infectious Diseases Medical Director Helen Jacoby.

But interfering with workers' choices is a "tough sell," Scott Treatman, the employee health director at Crouse Hospital, said in the article. "People don't want to be told what to do," he said, adding that the hospital planned to meet with the union to encourage members to get flu shots.

Such policies haven't gone over well at some hospitals. Nurses and other staff members at UMass Memorial Medical Center, for example, are protesting the flu shots, saying the hospital is trying to shame them into getting vaccinated.

"They're just bullying people," Ellen Smith, union representative for the Massachusetts Nurses Association, told The Boston Globe.

The mask "makes your patients afraid of you," Smith added.

While the state rate for employee vaccination at acute care hospitals was about 81 percent, U Mass Memorial's hovers at 61 percent--one of the lowest in the Commonwealth, according to the Globe.

Starting this past July, The Joint Commission required all accredited hospitals and long-term care provider organizations have an annual flu vaccination program for staff. The updated requirement will be phased in for other providers during the next year.

Such requirements have helped to increase vaccination rates. More than 83 percent of hospital workers had been vaccinated against seasonal flu by early November, the highest rate in any healthcare setting, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said yesterday. Workers in long-term care facilities had the lowest mid-season vaccination rate at 48.7 percent.

Healthcare workers who didn't get vaccinated said they didn't want to--the most common reason--or because their belief that vaccination was ineffective.

For more information:
- watch the Your News Now report
- read the Boston Globe article
- here's the Joint Commission report
- check out the CDC survey

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