UW Health is requiring employees to get flu shots this year, as more health care organizations say mandates ensure workers and patients are protected from infection.
“It makes sense to do whatever we can to implement the one measure we know will reduce hospital-acquired influenza,” said Dr. Nasia Safdar, head of infection control for UW Hospital.
SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin, which represents UW Hospital nurses and therapists, is asking UW Health to consider an exemption for personal beliefs. The policy allows medical and religious exemptions.
“We support flu shots, but we don’t think they should be mandatory,” said union treasurer Ann Louise Tetreault.
Stoughton Hospital is also requiring worker flu shots this year. St. Mary’s Hospital started the requirement last year, when 26 percent of hospitals and 12 percent of nursing homes in Wisconsin had mandates, according to the state Department of Health Services.
Another 69 percent of hospitals and 75 percent of nursing homes made workers sign waivers if they didn’t get vaccinated.
Dean Health System and Group Health Cooperative of South Central Wisconsin don’t require worker flu shots.
Meriter Health Services doesn’t have a mandate but will consider one next year, spokeswoman Mary Reinke said.
That’s also the case at Capitol Lakes Health Center, a nursing home in Madison, said administrator Kristi Vater. Other nursing homes, such as Oakwood Village, which has two campuses in Madison, aren’t considering a mandate.
John Sauer, president of Leading Age Wisconsin, which represents nonprofit nursing homes, said he expects most nursing homes will eventually have mandates.
“An outbreak of flu can really put residents at risk,” Sauer said.
Flu season generally runs from October to May, with peak activity in January or February. Little activity has been reported this fall in Wisconsin or around the country.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says nearly everyone 6 months and older should get an annual flu shot, which changes each year to match the three strains most likely to circulate. People with egg allergies and those who have had severe reactions to flu shots should talk to their doctors, the CDC says.
Despite the universal recommendation, only 42 percent of Americans got flu shots last year, according to the CDC. In Wisconsin, it was 41 percent.
Nearly 67 percent of health care workers were vaccinated last year, including 86 percent of doctors. There’s a push to get those rates above 95 percent.
At UW Hospital, 85 percent of workers were immunized last year. Figures weren’t available for other parts of UW Health.
The mandate should boost rates to 95 percent to 98 percent, Safdar said.
UW Health employees will be put on unpaid leave if they don’t get vaccinated by Dec. 1 or submit a religious waiver or medical waiver signed by a doctor. Workers who don’t comply after another 45 days could be fired.
The SEIU union encourages workers to get shots, stay home when they’re ill and frequently wash their hands. The mandate goes too far, the union says.
But Safdar said vaccinating more employees means protecting more patients from infections.
“It’s a patient safety issue,” she said. “Why be satisfied with anything less than the ideal?”