Make efforts to ensure all staff receive the flu vaccine and re-educate them on best practices around influenza-specific infection prevention steps. Do this to better ensure employee productivity and positive client outcomes this flu season.
Flu season began in October and there have already been reports of flu-related deaths, including a 90-year-old in New Mexico, according to the New Mexico Department of Health.
Clients age 65 and older are considered at high risk for serious flu complications, and those clients often make up the majority of the home care population. This makes it even more important to make every effort to reduce the spread of flu.
The first line of defense is making sure all agency staff receive the flu vaccine.
Agency leaders should track staff immunizations to determine who is getting the vaccine and who is not, says Misty Kevech, registered nurse and project coordinator with home health quality improvement (HHQI) national campaign in Charleston, W. Va.
Understanding who has not been vaccinated — and the reasons why — can help agencies better hone a strategy for addressing reasons staff have not been vaccinated.
Offer to pay for staff to get flu shots
One common concern for employees is the cost. Agencies should consider paying for employees to receive flu shots to address this issue, says Kate Semmerling, administrator with Northern Rose Home Health in Grayslake, Ill.
Encourage employees to go to a local pharmacy such as CVS or Walgreens and take the time to get the shot, then reimburse them. Remind employees that it only takes a few minutes to get the shot.
The vaccine itself can be between $15 and $20, but if a caregiver misses work because she has the flu, it can hundreds of dollars a day. The loss of productivity alone makes paying for the vaccine well worth the cost, Semmerling says.
Another solid strategy for getting staff vaccinated is to address common myths about the vaccine itself, Kevech says.
One common myth is that a person shouldn’t get the flu shot if they are allergic to eggs. That’s not necessarily the case, as one type of flu vaccine isn’t made with eggs at all, Kevech explains.
It also depends on the severity of the reaction. If, for instance, a client experiences only hives after eating eggs or egg-containing foods, the influenza vaccine can be administered.
Educate staff and clients about the flu
Set a timeline for staff education and vaccination. Having a deadline in mind can help ensure the needed education happens timely.
Put up posters and talk about the importance of vaccinations during team meetings, Semmerling recommends.
Revisit flu prevention best practices in meetings and through trainings. Staff should at least be educated about the vaccine itself, non-vaccine control and prevention measures as well the diagnosis, transmission and impact of the flu.
If a caregiver needs to make a visit and the client has a flu-like illness, the caregiver should protect herself because of close physical proximity to the client. Remind staff they must wear a mask and protect their eyes if they have not been vaccinated, says Mary McGoldrick, a home care and hospice consultant based in Naples, Fla.
While around 90% of nurses get early flu vaccinations, only 71% of assistants or aides do, Kevech says.
Dispelling myths and reinforcing the benefits of the flu vaccine to caregivers and aides specifically, can help increase the number of those who get the vaccine.
In addition to staff, clients should be kept up to date with the latest information about the flu vaccine to help dispel any myths and ensure they also get vaccinated.
During the initial assessment, be sure to ask whether the client received the flu vaccine and, if not, what the client’s plans for immunization are. — Megan Pielmeier (firstname.lastname@example.org)