By the end of most flu seasons only about 50 percent of Upson’s employees, volunteers and medical staff have gotten a flu shot. But this year — even before the first local influenza case had been confirmed — 95 percent of the hospital’s work force has been inoculated.
“It has taken a lot of education and re-education of our employees and medical staff and a lot of dispelling myth,” said Infection Control Leader Glenda VanHouten. “Everybody seems to know somebody who got a flu shot and got the flu — and that is not true.”
The dramatic increase took a major change in policy. For the first time, Upson mandated that all of its employees either get a flu shot or wear a mask during direct and indirect patient care throughout flu season.
CEO David Castleberry said the decision to encourage flu shots is simple: “It is the right thing to do to protect our patients.”
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and several other medical organizations have advocated now that everybody over 6 months of age get a flu vaccine and among the groups especially targeted are health care professionals so they don’t spread flu inadvertently to their patients,” said Dr. Fariyike, a local physician and member of Upson’s physician-led Infection Control committee.
The mask mandate was announced in August to give the hospital a chance to educate its employees, medical staff and volunteers. Free flu shots were provided to employees in late September. Flu shot clinics have been held, shots have been offered at staff meetings and employees have been able to go to their doctor’s office to get them, as well.
For those employees who haven’t received a flu shot, they will have to wear a mask when entering patient rooms or any exam or treatment room. “The last thing anyone at Upson wants to do is inadvertently make a patient sicker,” said Castleberry. “Through hand washing and vaccinations, we’re putting our patients and their safety first.”
Dr. Fariyike said all health care workers need to get flu shots to protect their patients. He himself has gotten one for the past 10 years. “It’s estimated that every year during the flu season approximately 36,000 Americans die of influenza-related causes, and the most prudent way to prevent that or to prevent spreading it to somebody who is elderly or vulnerable is a flu shot,” he said.
VanHouten says hospital visitors and guests can help protect patients, too. “Simple hand washing and covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze can go a long way towards keeping patients safe,” she said. “And, the number one thing everyone can do keep patients safe is to stay away from the hospital when you are sick.”