Push to Vaccinate Healthworkers is On
New federal regulations mean hospitals must count vaccination rates for anyone who works in a healthcare facility between October 1 and March 31.
This article appears in the July/August 2015 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.
At Lourdes Health System's two hospitals in New Jersey, ensuring that 2,700 workers get their seasonal flu shots—to stay healthy and avoid infecting patients—is such a high priority, that workers who refuse must find work elsewhere.
"We made it mandatory in the fall of 2012," long before many other hospitals in the nation, says Jennifer Moughan, chief human resources officer for the 325-licensed-bed Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Camden and 173-bed Lourdes Medical Center of Burlington County in Willingboro.
Of course, "there were people, and challenges, and we had to work through those," Moughan says. And yes, "a few people were terminated for not getting their shots."
That's one reason Lourdes dramatically bucks a troublesome trend in New Jersey, where hospitals' average rates of influenza immunization have tracked the lowest in the nation. For the 2013–2014 season that ended March 31, 2014, only 59% of healthcare workers in New Jersey hospitals who should get their shots did so. Across the country, healthcare worker compliance rates averaged 79%.
Lourdes' two hospitals did far better. Their healthcare worker vaccination rates that season were 95% and 96%, respectively. Only a "handful" of eligible employees requested and qualified for legitimate medical or religious exemption, for which the system requires strict documentation, Moughan says.
Hospitals must count vaccination rates for anyone who works for any part of one day in the healthcare facility between October 1 and March 31. That includes everyone from volunteers and clerical workers to doctors and executives. Organizations then report their rates to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Healthcare Safety Network for public reporting, which began late last year for 2013–2014, on Hospital Compare.
Workers also must show documentation if they get their shots somewhere other than Lourdes, although Lourdes, like most hospitals, offers them to employees at no charge.
"You can't just tell us you got it at Rite Aid; I want to see that documentation," Moughan says.
With a goal of getting most workers immunized by December 15, when holiday festivities and travel enable viral spread, Moughan's teams "go floor to floor. We have stationary clinics and carts that roll around at night and on weekends, and there's no way you don't have a vaccine offered to you sometime in this period."