Beginning with the 2012-13 influenza season, the Erlanger Health System is requiring all employees to have the annual influenza vaccination OR possess an approved qualified exception.*
Erlanger joins a long list of leading health care systems across the country, including Johns Hopkins Hospital, making employee vaccinations mandatory in order to better protect vulnerable patients from the potentially deadly flu virus.
Dr. James Creel, Erlanger’s Chief Medical Officer, is a strong proponent of mandatory vaccinations for hospital employees. “As the leading and largest healthcare provider in this region, Erlanger is ethically obligated to take every precaution to prevent the spread of influenza and to keep our patients, co-workers and others safe from acquiring the flu virus in a healthcare setting. People come to us with the expectation of getting well and we should give them that assurance,” he stated.
The reasons for mandatory vaccinations for hospitals employees are many:
- Influenza is the number one cause of vaccine preventable death in the U.S. Those at the greatest risk of dying from the flu are young children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems.
- The influenza virus can be easily spread before a hospital employee is aware they are ill. One infected employee in contact with a vulnerable patient can cause harm and even death. One in four healthcare workers show evidence of having the flu each year, and 70% continue to work despite having flu symptoms.
- As the region’s only trauma center, Erlanger is where other hospitals send their toughest and sickest patients. Erlanger treats over a quarter million area residents every year, including the most vulnerable populations.
- Influenza vaccine is safe and remains the single most effective preventive measure against influenza. As other leading healthcare providers have learned, requiring masks for those wishing to opt out of vaccinations presented numerous challenges and infectious disease specialists agree that the costs far outweighed the benefits. The flu virus can be spread by touching contaminated objects (eg. keyboards, phones, elevator buttons, door knobs), as well as from coughing and sneezing.
- Starting in 2013, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will require acute care hospitals to submit influenza vaccination rates for their workers as part of its pay-for-reporting Hospital Inpatient Quality Reporting Program. Tracking vaccination coverage among health care personnel will be a leading bench mark of patient safety, and a measure used to mark progress in reaching key targets. These figures will be publicly reported next July.
- High vaccination rates among hospital and nursing home workers has been demonstrated to dramatically reduce the incidence of flu – and flu-related deaths – among patients.
- Erlanger has had a longstanding policy of requiring vaccinations for mumps, measles and chicken pox, as with most hospitals nationwide.
In support of the mandate, Dr. Creel also noted that part of a healthcare worker’s code of ethics is that the patient comes first. “It is our ethical and professional responsibility to our patients to be protected by vaccinations,” he stressed. “It’s about doing the right thing for the patient.”
“Erlanger treats thousands of premature babies, high-risk pregnant women, victims of life-threatening trauma and disease, and highly vulnerable patients, and should take every precaution to guard against causing them harm by exposing them to the flu virus,” Dr. Creel said. “As healthcare providers it is our obligation to put the safety of our patients first and foremost.”
According to Dr. Creel, there is a narrow band of individuals with documented medical issues related to the flu vaccine. “One in a million may be at risk for Guillian Barre and those with documented evidence can apply for a waiver from mandatory vaccination,” he said.
* Erlanger’s policy does allow exemptions, including those with documented history of Guillian Barre Syndrome or certain documented allergic reactions. For employees concerned about mercury, preservative free vaccine will be provided upon request. Flu mist is also available for those with an aversion to needles.