Cut the hypocrisy when it comes to flu shots for health workers

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James M. Berklan
James M. Berklan

If you're like most long-term care providers, you have probably had more than your fill of flu talk and ruminations by now. I'm part of the wave (and note here that you'll want to check out a first-of-its-kind LTC flu toolkit I link to below). But I also want to point out some unconscionable hypocrisy being dished by survey teams.

We all know Uncle Sam buys its regulatory ink by the barrel, and the tales of unfunded mandates from Congress are far too many. But the most bankrupt practice of them all? Surveyors' demands about providers getting vaccinated without being vaccinated themselves.

Double standard, thy name is surveyor.

Yet year after year, some of these same surveyors traipse up and down the hallways without either having been vaccinated or wearing a facemask. Now that's chutzpah.

Just how widespread this practice is isn't clear. But we've received reports about it happening in at least a handful of states. There is no question it occurs more than it should, and provider advocates at the highest level are aware of the issue. Not wishing to bite the hand that feeds (and disciplines) them, however, they are understandably reluctant to call state or federal regulators on the carpet.

Well, consider yourselves on the carpet, surveyors. This is more galling than seeing you write up a provider for allegedly poor or improper food handling measures while refusing to wear a hair net yourself.

In this day and age of Ebola fears and other heightened infection control concerns, including an ominous-looking flu season, it is unthinkable to not have surveyors toe the same line as those they're inspecting. And if it means wearing a facemask or a hair net, it is only for a relatively short period anyway …  extremely short compared to those who work in these environments every day. (Even as a visiting journalist observing hospital sterilization departments, I have donned a full cap, gown and mask many times.)

It's time for regulators to walk the walk and not just hand out the write-up. Maybe they should wear "I'm vaccinated" stickers like the “I voted” variety. Surveyors could become good examples, providing motivation for everyone from providers down through family members and residents.

Beyond the marketing aspects of it, however, it would also simply be the right thing to do, for the health and safety of all amid these frail populations.

Along those lines, I say to providers: It's not too late to add another weapon to your arsenal against a potentially very rough flu season.

The Department of Health and Human Services' National Vaccine Program Office has developed a toolkit for long-term care employers. It is on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website and can go a long way toward getting your workforce fully vaccinated.

Long-term care is the black sheep among healthcare worker groups. It's time to turn that around — along with some misguided surveyor practices.

James M. Berklan is McKnight's Editor. Follow him @JimBerklan.


Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.

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