October 21, 2011 -
With the start of the flu season on the horizon, the Washington State Hospital Association (WSHA) announced that during the last flu season 86 percent of Washington hospital workers were immunized against the flu. Olympic Medical Center’s immunization rate reached 91 percent. Both were significantly above the national average of 71 percent.
This is the result of a new hospital worker immunization program developed with the goal to prevent the transmission of influenza in hospitals. Performance is tracked using the Washington State Hospital Association’s Quality Benchmarking System (QBS), a quality improvement tool created in partnership with Premera Blue Cross. It allows hospitals to monitor their own progress and track against others, and allows the information to be shared with the public. Hospital-specific immunization rates can be found at http://www.wahospitalquality.org.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the flu is a dangerous respiratory illness that causes an average of 200,000 hospitalizations in the United States each year and as many as 50,000 deaths. “Influenza is always a serious disease, but for hospital patients – premature infants, vulnerable seniors and people with significant health issues – getting the flu can be life-threatening,” said Scott Bond, president of WSHA.
The state-wide hospital immunization program began implementation last year when the WSHA board of trustees recommended aggressive action to stop the spread of influenza in Washington’s hospitals. Hospitals across Washington State adopted policies requiring employees (including nurses and physicians) to either get immunized against the flu or take other protective actions. This was a big change from traditionally voluntary flu immunization programs, which have resulted in low health care worker immunization rates. The model policy used in Washington State was the basis for national guidelines recommended this year.
“Washington is one of the first states in the nation to adopt flu immunization policies focused on the safety of patients,” explained Bond. “The result is a dramatic increase in the number of immunized hospital workers and an equally dramatic decrease in the number of patients who will be exposed to the flu while receiving care at our hospitals.”
Brian Ancell, executive vice president of Health Care Services at Premera Blue Cross, and a board member of WSHA’s Patient Safety Committee, additionally announced that Premera will dedicate up to $1 million in additional support over the next four years to further develop patient safety programs across the state. “Premera and WSHA share the goal of improving patient safety and reducing costly hospital readmissions,” said Ancell. “We will continue to provide the support needed to move critical issues such as health care worker flu immunizations forward.”
OMC Choice Program
The Olympic Medical Center Choice Program requires employees and medical staff to either get immunized against the flu or take other specific measures to prevent the spread of the flu virus to patients of the medical center and its clinics. All employees and medical staff are strongly encouraged to receive early immunization against the flu, and anyone not immunized by the time influenza season is declared by the county health officer will be required to wear a mask while working at any Olympic Medical facility.
This immunization program is needed to provide a more comprehensive approach to prevent the spread of influenza. “The Board of Commissioners and OMC leadership are committed to this patient safety initiative and backed that commitment with a policy and processes that empower managers to successfully lead the change,” says Scott Kennedy, MD, chief medical officer.
The flu can be dangerous for patients, particularly the very young, the elderly and patients with chronic diseases. Flu viruses can be spread unknowingly by infected health care workers a day or two before the worker has symptoms and recognizes they are contagious.
That’s why during the last flu season, by combining immunization with careful hand and respiratory hygiene (such as masking), 91 percent of OMC employees adopted the most effective strategy for preventing the flu from spreading at Olympic Medical facilities. The remaining 9 percent chose to wear masks to protect patients, in accordance with the Choice Program. The high influenza immunization rate at Olympic Medical reflected the staff’s strong commitment to adopt the most effective measures for protecting patients and coworkers from contracting the flu while visiting Olympic Medical Center facilities, according to Dr. Kennedy.
About Premera Blue Cross
Our mission is to provide peace of mind to our members about their health care coverage. We provide health plans and related services to more than 1.6 million people. Premera Blue Cross has operated in Washington since 1933, and Alaska since 1952. Premera Blue Cross is a not-for-profit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.
Premera Blue Cross is a member of a family of companies based in Mountlake Terrace, Washington that provide health, life, vision, dental, stop-loss, disability and other related products and services. Please visit www.premera.com for more information.
About the Washington State Hospital Association
The Washington State Hospital Association represents all 97 community hospitals. The association takes a major leadership role in issues that affect delivery, quality, accessibility, affordability and continuity of health care. It works to improve the health status of the residents of Washington State.
WSHA’s Patient Safety Program began in 2005 as a collaborative effort of hospitals and health systems across Washington State. Hospitals work together to share best practices and implement evidence based solutions to eliminate harm and improve patient safety. The program is guided by a multi-disciplinary Patient Safety Committee whose members include nurses, physicians, hospital board members, CEOs and insurance company representatives.
About Olympic Medical Center
Olympic Medical Center (Clallam County Public Hospital District No. 2) is a comprehensive, award-winning health care provider for more than 70,000 residents of Clallam County. It has served the community since its establishment on Nov. 1, 1951, and is governed by a seven-member, publicly elected board. OMC is a sole community hospital and rural referral center. It provides inpatient services at its 80-bed acute-care facility in Port Angeles, including a level-three trauma designated emergency department, surgical services, and labor and delivery. OMC’s outpatient services include cardiac, imaging, physical therapy and rehabilitation, laboratory, surgical services, home health, physician clinics and comprehensive regional cancer care at locations in Port Angeles and Sequim.