Seniors more likely to skip nursing homes where staff skip flu vaccines

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Almost three-fourths of seniors said they'd be less likely to choose a nursing home if they found a large share of its staff wasn't vaccinated against the flu, according to a new poll.

Nearly three-quarters of people surveyed by AARP and the University of Michigan said that all staff in long-term care facilities should be required to get the flu vaccine. In results released Wednesday, more than 60% also said all patients in nursing homes and assisted living facilities should be vaccinated too.

The new results, from the National Poll on Healthy Aging, come at a time when nursing homes and assisted living facilities lag behind hospitals and other healthcare settings in flu vaccination rates. Attempts by some long-term care employers to require such vaccinations are still a magnet for controversy.

In late November, Essentia Health, which operates long-term care facilities, hospitals and clinics, fired more than 50 staff members who refused a vaccination. A union there sued the provider and sought an injunction but was unsuccessful.

The AARP-Michigan poll — completed by 2,007 Americans between the ages of 50 and 80 — seems to shows that letting employee opt out of vaccines could hurt patient health and a company's bottom line.

If one-third or more of a facility's staff weren't vaccinated, 40% of those polled said they'd be “much less” likely to choose it for themselves or loved ones. Another third of respondents said that fact would make them “slightly less” likely to choose it.

Older people, and those with chronic health conditions, are especially vulnerable to the influenza virus, and at an increased risk of developing flu-related complications such as pneumonia. But the CDC has reported that only 68% of workers in long-term care settings get vaccinated against the flu, compared to at least 92% of hospital workers.

"We've finally gotten to the point in the last few years where most inpatient hospitals require their staff to get vaccinated against the flu, or at least strongly promote it," said Preeti Malani, M.D., director of the poll and a professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan.

"These results suggest that other types of care facilities should do the same to protect vulnerable patients — or potentially risk losing business.”

In all, 73% of respondents said they felt medical staff should “definitely” get vaccinated, 71% said non-medical staff should be vaccinated, and 20% percent said staff vaccinations should be required.