New Hospital Policies Increase Healthcare Worker Flu Immunization

Ninety-four of Washington State's 98 hospitals have adopted new policies requiring their healthcare 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.

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 healthcare 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," says John Fletcher, senior vice president and 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 healthcare 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 healthcare workers. For example, Virginia Mason Medical Center now has more than 99 percent of workers vaccinated.

For a list of participating hospitals, CLICK HERE.