Two years ago Poudre Valley Health System was one of the nation’s leaders in requiring flu vaccinations for employees.
We did this because we believe vaccinations will significantly decrease the risk of flu for patients and employees.
In an average year, about 3,300 Coloradoans are hospitalized because of the flu and more than 600 deaths are due to complications from the illness. The most vulnerable are children, the elderly and persons with compromised immunity.
When we made the announcement that our organization will mandate vaccinations, there were strong, vocal reactions of opposition from a few employees and some members of the public.
I understand the reasons behind the opposition; the chief reason relates to freedom of choice. Regardless, I firmly believe the reasons are strongly overshadowed by the most important need to protect our patients and employees.
There’s another benefit. Vaccinating employees not only helps protect patients, it also decreases the possibility that members of employee families could get the flu from their loved ones who work for PVHS.
I’m proud to report that our employees have embraced the need to be vaccinated. This year our flu vaccination rate was 95 percent, an outstanding accomplishment. The only exceptions to our mandatory flu policy were staff members who have religious convictions or medical conditions that would warrant exemptions.
In the last two years, more healthcare organizations throughout the U.S. have moved to mandatory vaccinations. This has occurred while state and federal agencies have called for mandatory flu shots in the healthcare profession. Here are two recent examples:
On Feb. 15, the State Board of Health voted to make flu vaccinations mandatory for healthcare workers in Colorado. The new rule requires hospitals to achieve a 90-percent vaccination rate by 2014. This includes employees as well as physicians and allied health professionals with hospital privileges.
The new rule in Colorado came only a few days after a federal advisory committee adopted the position that healthcare employers should strongly consider mandating flu vaccinations for staff members. In making its recommendation, the National Vaccine Advisory Committee, which advises the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, pointed out:
“This safety precaution (flu vaccinations) not only prevents virus transmission to patients, but also reduces the risk for infection among healthcare workers, thus preserving an adequate workforce during influenza outbreaks.”
These two developments are major steps forward in Colorado and nationwide efforts to ensure the health and safety of patients and healthcare employees and their families.
On a related topic while we’re focused on the flu…
I’d like to note that health officials across the nation are warning the public to remember that we are still in the flu season.
For example, in Larimer County, where PVHS is headquartered, the county health department distributed a press release Feb. 16 saying that flu activity is on the rise. Among the patients was an elderly woman who died due to complications from the flu.
“February is usually the time when we see the numbers of cases increase in a typical year,” related Susanne Murray, a communicable disease nurse for the county. “It looks like that’s what is happening this year since we’re starting to see a definite rise in flu activity.”
The health department recommends that adults ask for a Tdap booster (Tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis) when getting their flu shot. The Tdap will help boost immunity to whooping cough, another illness on the rise in northern Colorado.
I’d like to encourage you to learn more about the flu by going to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention influenza website. You’ll find information about symptoms, prevention, how flu spreads, and vaccination recommendations. The site has flu information related to adults and children.
It’s my sincere wish that you remain well and healthy—and that you take the precautions to avoid the flu.