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Dome - Making it mandatory

Dome June 2012

Making it mandatory

Date: June 15, 2012


Suburban Hospital’s Robert Rothstein, Cindy Notobartolo and  Dennis Parnell led a successful effort to make flu vaccination mandatory.
Suburban Hospital’s Robert Rothstein, Cindy Notobartolo and Dennis Parnell led a successful effort to make flu vaccination mandatory.

On Dec. 1, 2011, Suburban Hospital became the first organization in the Johns Hopkins Health System to implement mandatory flu vaccination as a requirement of employment.

Seven other Hopkins organizations will follow suit this year. The Johns Hopkins Hospital, The Johns Hopkins University, Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, Howard County General Hospital, Sibley Memorial Hospital, Johns Hopkins Community Physicians and Johns Hopkins Home Care Group will enforce a flu vaccination policy for faculty and staff, beginning in the fall.

The journey down this difficult path has been nothing short of remarkable at Suburban. The employee health staff members came in evenings, nights and weekends to make it convenient for the off-shift employees to get their vaccinations. Nursing councils took time out of their meetings to take roving carts with the vaccinations to all departments. And one nursing unit director personally vaccinated 90 percent of her staff during the first week the shots were available.

“A very small percentage applied for and received either a religious or medical accommodation. They will be required to wear a mask during flu season,” says Dennis Parnell, Suburban’s senior vice president of human resources. “But the 99.9 percent of our staff members as well as our hundreds of physicians and volunteers who complied willingly did so because they were well aware of the positive impact this would have on our patients.”

Every Hopkins member organization hopes to emulate Suburban’s success. That would be the easy part. The more difficult part may come in dealing with employees who choose not to comply. And here, too, the other hospitals and organizations can learn from Suburban’s experience.

Suburban employees who did not receive the vaccine were placed on administrative leave. They had one week to get the vaccine or choose to resign. An earlier deadline—Oct. 31—was enforced for all requests for medical or religious exceptions. “We told our physicians who questioned the legitimacy of the policy, it’s not about you,” says Robert Rothstein, Suburban’s vice president of medical affairs. “Number one and only, it’s about our patients.”

Of Suburban’s 1,800 employees, only nine chose to resign rather than to receive the vaccine. Seven religious and five medical exemptions were granted. And out of 1,200 medical staff, just four physicians were allowed medical exemptions, and four others were placed on administrative suspension—meaning they could not enter the hospital during flu season.

“We all could keep discussing forever whether or not we should mandate flu vaccination of health care workers,” Parnell says. “But the only way to ensure the safety of our patients was to make the vaccination mandatory.”

Each Hopkins organization’s occupational health services will review medical exceptions, and religious exemptions will be evaluated by their respective  human resources departments. If granted an exemption, an employee will be required to properly wear a surgical mask within six feet of any patient for the duration of the flu season.

The enterprise is looking for 100-percent compliance, and the policy applies to every organization within Hopkins Medicine—including the schools of medicine, nursing and public health. By Dec. 1 of this year, employees—based on each organization’s policy—are required to receive the vaccine.

—Katie Kuehn

For more information, visit hopkinsmedicine.org/mandatoryflu.

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