Vaccinations: Guess who doesn’t think 80% employee compliance is necessary?

If doctors, nurses, and (more importantly), hospital administrators don’t practice what health care professionals preach regarding vaccinations, why should you get a flu shot or get your child immunized? Seriously … if health care workers don’t think they need a flu vaccination, do you? Do they know something we don’t about vaccinations? Or, if it’s truly just a personal choice issue, do you want the unvaccinated folks responsible for your care if you’re hospitalized during the influenza season? Or do you want them caring for your frail elderly parent?

The Wisconsin Alliance of Retired Americans has joined AARP and the Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups to petition the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, via Secretary Karen Timberlake, to "promulgate an emergency rule to require influenza education and at the very least have health care workers sign declination forms who decide not to be vaccinated for the flu."

At the time of this writing, there had been no response to that October 6, 2010 request, and yet over 65% of Wisconsin hospitals reportedly did not achieve a flu vaccination rate of at lest 80% of their workers. If that remains the case in mid-November, the advocacy groups mentioned above are going to request a mandate, versus emergency rule, to intentionally nudge aside the Wisconsin Hospital Association’s reportedly cool reception (and lobbying influence).

Note: I personally do not know the WHA to take a negative view, or know the complicated reasons why it would (things are never as surface level as they appear in health care; hence the need for more transparency), but that has been reported to me by the Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups as a hurdle to acceptance.

The situation actually catches my fancy and attention because one of the imperatives that health care administrators all give lip service to as being crucial to any health care reform is prevention — and the key is education of the private sector in terms of the impact and cost of preventable illnesses like the flu. And yet hospital leadership has lacked the conviction to get its own staff vaccinated for a largely preventable ailment, and state government may lack the conviction to put political donations aside and start with that leadership to demand change that is in the obvious interest of the public good.

In fact, in a recent policy state, the American Academy of Pediatrics stated, "despite the efforts of many organizations to improve influenza immunization rates with the use of voluntary campaigns, influenza coverage among health care personnel remains unacceptably low."

Why? And I ask that question in a country that is facing a critical shortage of nurses and I know of one [out of area] hospital that is putting nurses on notice if they go over their allotted sick days — meaning more critical care nurses are coming to work even when sick to protect their jobs. Seems counterintuitive, but a hospital has to be staffed 24/7 and they need full coverage for their own quality reports, since the public wants those now…. And what isn’t measured or known is how many employees come to work sick due to unrealistic sick day policies, and the effect that has on infection rates.

Vaccinations seem like a good investment for health care workers, eh? IB paid for the shots for our staff again this year because it’s just smart business to avoid sick days or (worse) sick employees on the job. And yet we do not, literally and figuratively, handle the frail elderly or critically ill day to day.

Something to think about.

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