Vaccination quandry vexes LTC workforces

Findings announced by the National Foundation of Infectious Diseases in September show that healthcare personnel in long-term care settings were least likely to be vaccinated against the flu.

While 77% of all healthcare workers received shots during the 2014 flu season, just 64% of LTC workers did. 

These workers also were least likely to report that their employer required vaccination or made vaccinations available to employees on site.

“The older folks have taken the flu more seriously,” says Mary Madison, RN, clinical director for Briggs Healthcare. “Where you have to do some arm twisting is with the healthcare workers.”

Madison instituted a staff vaccination program as director of nursing at a 330-bed facility. She says high levels of compliance cut employee sick days in half. There were also fewer flu cases among residents that season.

The key to getting more takers is to make the process easy: Schedule several clinics, plan them for paydays when employees will be coming in anyway and play up how vaccinations provide protective benefits for the workers and their families as well.

Those who don't take the vaccine shouldn't necessarily be penalized, but they should be required to wear a mask when working with patients, Madison says. She says facilities should ask the same of non-vaccinated volunteers and visitors, even surveyors.

McKesson Clinical Support Manager Patricia Howell encourages expanding vaccinations to second-line employees such as maintenance and housekeeping. In addition, she says employers can ask anyone who denies the shot why they made that choice.

While vaccination rates are climbing, Howell added that after-hours clinics should be repeated throughout the year in case employees change their mind, and some should be done after business hours. Elizabeth Cerceo, M.D., FACP, an assistant professor at Cooper Medical School of Rowan University, says limitations that have plagued the general population, such as inadequate public education and co-pays, should not impact healthcare workers.

“Our role as healthcare providers is to our patients to both model health behaviors and to protect the vulnerable from serious infection,” she warned.