Vaccination stations at the elevators and parking garage were less-than-subtle reminders to workers coming and going from the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center campus that it was time to get ready for flu season. For three weeks, these strategically placed mini-clinics made it easy for the hospital's 4,200 employees to stop and get a flu shot. No vaccination? Prepare to wear a surgical mask at work throughout the entire season. Moffitt's policy that employees protect themselves and patients from flu exposure has worked far better than asking nicely for volunteers, said Michele Talka, Moffitt's director of human resource operations. Nearly 92 percent have complied with the policy, now in its second year. "We tried incentives and bribes and convenience but could never get enough," she said of previous efforts that couldn't get participation to jump above roughly 60 percent.
Though it may not be directly tied to new federal vaccination reporting rules that start Jan. 1, more hospitals nationwide are requiring clinicians, office workers and volunteers to get flu shots. Some go so far as to make objectors wear surgical masks or dangle a deduction on employee insurance premiums as an incentive. Even those local hospitals that don't mandate flu shots, such as Florida Hospitals, HCA Hospitals and the BayCare Health System, "strongly encourage" employee participation. "Anything we can do to prevent the disease is good," said Bruce Flareau, president of BayCare Physician Partners. BayCare, an 11-hospital network with more than 20,000 employees, held 50 free vaccination clinics this fall. Participation jumped 7 percent this year, to 50 percent. Across the United States, health care professionals working with and near the sick are more likely to want to prevent flu, show statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Far more health care workers, 62.9 percent, have been vaccinated this year compared to the general public, 41.8 percent.
The frailty of hospital patients is a reason why the CDC this year is highlighting how many health care professionals get flu shots. Officials say the preventable disease can spread quickly in health care settings, including hospitals, nursing homes and doctor's offices. A CDC report released this month shows that hospitals have the highest overall employee participation, at 83.4 percent. More than 65 percent of ambulatory center and physician office workers get them, while nearly 49 percent of workers at nursing homes receive flu shots, the report said. "You're also protecting someone who can't get vaccinated," said Dan Jernigan, deputy influenza division director at the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease.
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