Almanac

News - October 20, 2010

Healthcare workers: Are they getting flu shots?

by Sandy Brundage

Flu season's here, and with it come messages urging everyone to get vaccinated. Hospitals near Menlo Park are trying to practice what they preach by vaccinating more employees for flu than in previous seasons, and last year they beat the average statewide vaccination rate.

Vaccinating healthcare workers helps reduce the severity of flu outbreaks among patients, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The agency recommends all healthcare workers get annual flu shots, but no law requires employees to do so.

However, since 2008, California hospitals are required to report how many workers get the shot each year. The Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, filed a public records request with the California Department of Public Health for statistics on flu vaccination rates among healthcare workers for 2008 through 2009. The data showed an average rate of 52.4 percent statewide.

Local hospitals

Hospitals near Menlo Park, however, are doing better than average. The Almanac checked the Consumers Union data for Stanford Medical Center, Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, Menlo Park Surgical Hospital, Kaiser Redwood City, San Mateo Medical Center, and VA Palo Alto, and calculated vaccination rates ranging from 56 to 83 percent.

Ranked last is the San Mateo Medical Center, where, according to the Consumers Union data, only 56 percent of its employees were vaccinated during the 2008-09 flu season. The hospital is encouraging workers to get the shot this year, according to representative Jana Cramer.

She said the actual number vaccinated may be higher because the state required a signed form that not all employees may have completed. Next came the Menlo Park Surgical Hospital, with a 66 percent vaccination rate during that timeframe, confirmed by spokesperson Cynthia Greaves. Data for 2009-10 wasn't available.

Kaiser Redwood City showed a more modest increase from 66 percent in the 2009-09 season to 69 percent during 2009-10. Media relations manager Matt Brown said that data includes all hospital staff and volunteers.

VA Palo Alto, Stanford Hospital tops

Next comes the VA Palo Alto Healthcare System, which had the highest rate for 2008-2009. Although federal facilities are not required to report that data to the state, spokesperson Kerri Childress said last year its vaccination rate remained steady at "just over 80 percent" for the approximately 3,200 employees working at facilities in Palo Alto, Menlo Park, and Livermore.

"We really get pushed to try and inoculate as many people as possible," Ms. Childress said. "It's a high priority for our central agency. The goal was 70 percent nationwide, so we exceeded that."

The award for "most improved" goes to Stanford Hospital and Clinics. Spokesperson Liat Kobza said 67 percent of the staff got the shot in 2008-09; anyone who did not had to take an educational course before refusing the vaccination. The education effort paid off; the following flu season showed an increase of 16 percentage points, with 83 percent of the employees getting vaccinated.

Subsidiary Lucile Packard Children's Hospital matched those rates. Robert Dicks, senior media relations manager, attributed the increase to "an extraordinary awareness campaign" conducted through videos, flyers, signs, and classes.

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