As Americans cope with a hot, humid summer, fall seems inconceivably far away, but football season, cooler weather and — perhaps the biggest sign of fall in U.S. hospitals — the flu season are quickly approaching.
Increasingly, hospitals are requiring their employees to receive vaccinations during these critical months, and the American Hospital Association recently weighed in with support for mandatory patient policies that require either influenza vaccinations or the wearing of protective masks during flu season.
The AHA advisory acknowledges the financial costs of mandating vaccinations for all employees, but focuses on the public health consequences of influenza: an estimated 150,000 hospital admissions and 24,000 deaths each year. According to the report, only half of health care workers are vaccinated each year; hospitals implementing mandatory vaccination policies have been able to push their vaccination rates above 90 percent.
"While the resources needed to implement a mandatory policy are significant, especially in terms of financial and personnel resources, the benefits of protecting vulnerable patients and reducing employee illness and absenteeism far outweigh the costs," the AHA statement reads.
Several other organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Patient Safety Foundation, have endorsed mandatory flu vaccination as a condition of employment within health care facilities. The NPSF estimatesthat institutions with mandatory vaccinations can achieve an 88 percent in workforce infection and a 41 percent reduction in flu-related patient mortality.
The Centers for Disease Control has recommended mandatory vaccinations since 1981. The CDC policy states that "health care administrators should consider the level of vaccination coverage among [employees] to be one measure of a patient safety quality program, and consider obtaining signed declinations from personnel who decline influenza vaccination for reasons other than medical contraindications."
Looking for perspective on how individual hospitals have handled this issue, I came across the blog of Rulon Stacey, president and CEO of Poudre Valley Health System in Colorado, who recently expressed support for the new AHA position.
Stacey blogged last year about Poudre Valley's decision to implement a mandatory vaccination policy, generating a vigorous debate on the subject. Poudre Valley's policy remains in effect this year.
For further information, including upcoming conference calls on the subject, visit the AHA's Hospitals in Pursuit of Excellence initiative's Influenza Vaccination page.