TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senators Joseph F. Vitale and Jim Whelan that would require health care facilities to offer flu shots to their employees passed the Senate today and now heads to the Governor’s desk.
“During the flu season, both health care professionals and patients are at risk of spreading influenza throughout hospitals, nursing homes and health care facilities. An outbreak of the flu in one of these health care facilities could have severe consequences on the operations of the facility as well as the health of patients and staff,” said Senator Vitale (D-Middlesex). “By simply making flu shots available to health care workers, we can prevent catastrophic flu outbreaks in these facilities and can significantly decrease the spread of this illness to patients who already have compromised immune systems. It is the responsibility of the health care facility to take every reasonable step possible to protect their employees and patients from the spread of this common disease, particularly when this step is as simple as making influenza vaccines accessible and available.”
The bill (S-2984/A-3920) would require state licensed health care facilities including hospitals and nursing homes to establish and implement an annual influenza vaccination program. Each facility would be required to provide either on- or off-site flu vaccination for its health care workers, unless an employee provides documentation of current flu vaccinations or signs a written statement declining a vaccination. The facilities would be required to maintain records of influenza vaccinations for each of its health care workers.
Health care facilities would additionally be required to provide an educational component to the program that informs their employees of the benefits of flu vaccines, non-vaccine flu control measures, and the symptoms, transmission and potential impact of the flu. The legislation requires health care facilities to conduct an annual review of the program with the goal of improving the rate of influenza vaccination among their health care workers. A health care facility would be able to suspend its annual offering of influenza vaccines if there is determined to be a shortage of available vaccines by the Commissioner of Health and Senior Services.
“During the winter months, health care facilities are filled with people looking for relief of a broad variety of illnesses. It is vital that the health care staff is healthy and available to treat and care for these patients. By receiving the influenza vaccine, these health care workers will reduce their chance of catching and spreading influenza and increased absenteeism during the flu season will be less of a concern for health care facilities,” said Senator Whelan (D-Atlantic). “This is particularly important as New Jersey continues to deal with a nursing shortage and understaffed health care facilities. Compared to the high costs of temporary employees and overtime to cover the shifts of sick health care workers, it just makes economic sense to offer health care workers an opportunity to receive a flu shot.”
Numerous cases involving a lack of influenza-vaccinated health care workers are well-documented and have resulted in the introduction and spread of the flu into health care facilities. In one such case, occurring during the 1991-92 flu season, a New York nursing home had a severe influenza outbreak with 65 of their residents infected, resulting in 34 cases of influenza-related pneumonia, 19 hospitalized residents and ultimately two deaths. Only 10 percent of the nursing home’s health care staff had received an influenza vaccination.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, only 63.5 percent of health care workers received an influenza vaccine during the 2010-2011 flu season. The bill sponsors said that given health care workers’ close contact with patients with weakened immunities and the ease of access to which they could receive an influenza vaccine, these numbers should be substantially higher.
The bill was approved in the Senate by a vote of 36-3. It passed the General Assembly last month.