Taking a stance on protecting patients against influenza

3/5/2014

Amery Regional Medical Center (ARMC) now requires all employees and medical staff receive the influenza vaccine, with certain exceptions. The decision to move forward was based on one main concern: the safety of the patient.

“The flu is unpredictable and easily spread to others through coughs and sneezes, says Lynn Gaffney, Infection Prevention Coordinator at Amery Regional Medical Center. “Many patients who come to our facility already have comprised immune systems, so providing a safe environment is extremely important.”

Influenza (flu) is not the same as the stomach flu, but sometimes the name may add confusion. Influenza (flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. In fact the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimate flu-associated deaths ranging from 3,000 to 49,000 people from the 1976 through 2007 seasons.

The flu can cause serious complications for many individuals like bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration, and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes. The CDC warns older people, young children, pregnant women and people with asthma, diabetes, or heart disease, and persons who live in facilities like nursing homes are at greater risk. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccine each year, which is why ARMC is taking such a stance.

In early 2013, the Wisconsin Hospital Association (WHA) along with five other health care statewide organizations formed a coalition known as the Wisconsin Healthcare Influenza Prevention Coalition. The goal of the Coalition is to increase the number of health care personnel in Wisconsin that receive an annual influenza vaccination. The Coalition has the following recommendation:

To protect the lives and welfare of patients and employees, improve quality and reduce health care costs, Wisconsin Hospital Association (WHA), Wisconsin Medical Society (the Society), LeadingAge Wisconsin, Wisconsin Health Care Association (WHCA)/Wisconsin Center for Assisted Living (WiCAL) and the Pharmacy Society of Wisconsin (PSW) encourage all members to implement an evidence-based vaccination initiative to achieve a vaccination rate of >95 percent as part of their comprehensive approach to prevent health care-associated infections. In support of this goal, our organizations recommend that influenza vaccination become a condition of employment and maintenance of medical staff privileges. All health care providers are encouraged to work toward influenza vaccination becoming a condition of employment and maintenance of medical staff privileges for the 2013-2014 flu season.
“In support of this initiative and to help ensure a safe environment for our patients, we implemented the recommendations of the Wisconsin Healthcare Influenza Prevention Coalition for this year’s flu season,” says Michael Karuschak, Jr., CEO of Amery Regional Medical Center. “We were very open about this new standard. We began informing employees and staff back in February that receiving the annual flu vaccine would become a ‘condition of employment’ for 2013-2014.”

The ARMC medical staff also understands and supports the new initiative. They even changed their by-laws to require all physicians and mid-level providers to receive the flu vaccine in order to be able to practice at ARMC.

The effective date of this new policy was November 1, 2013. To date, all regular full-time and part-time employees have received the vaccine excluding a few individuals that have been granted a medical or religious waiver or are awaiting their waiver request to be reviewed. The overall vaccination rate for the medical center is currently 97.3%.

Employees that have received a medical or religious waiver will be required to wear a face mask when interacting with patients when influenza activity is at or above baseline levels as determined by the State of Wisconsin Health Department. Unfortunately, ARMC did have two full/part time employees that elected to leave employment instead of receiving the flu vaccine.

“The Medical Center is committed to providing the safest environment possible for our patients and making the flu vaccine a condition of employment is one initiative to help us achieve this goal,” says Karuschak.

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