Come the start of flu season and Halloween mania, Christy Richter’s
neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) colleagues have learned to expect a pinpoint of pain delivered with a sweet reward. A nurse clinician and longtime volunteer with the unit-based flu vaccine campaign at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, Richter estimates that she has administered thousands of vaccines—always with a Hershey’s Kiss or a Snickers bar as an incentive.
“I always block out time before or after a shift and set up a little mini-clinic in the conference room,” Richter says. At busier times, she takes a “mobile flu clinic” arranged on an instrument cart to NICU hallways and administers the vaccine “right there on the floor.”
Available to anyone with a Johns Hopkins badge (except vendors), the
unit-based vaccine service eliminates the need to stand in line. It also makes it easier for caregivers “working on units taking care of patients” as well as nonclinicians on the unit to comply with the health system’s mandatory flu vaccine program, says Deborah Dooley, clinical nurse manager of Johns Hopkins Occupational Health Services.
While the unit-based program launched Sept. 27, vaccines will be
available for all employees starting Monday, Oct. 3. All personnel who work location is in a patient or clinical care area must be vaccinated before Tuesday, Dec. 6. Employees with a valid medical or religious reason not to get a flu shot this year must request an exception by completing the appropriate form and receiving approval by Tuesday, Nov. 1. Those who receive an exception must wear a mask when they are within 6 feet of a patient during the influenza season.
Departments that wish to be part of the unit-based flu vaccine program must be able to safely store the vaccine. Nurses and certified medical assistants (CMAs) are qualified to vaccinate employees, but a nurse lead is required for the unit’s participation. Both nurse leads and CMAs must take part in a safety review session run by Dooley. Across the 75 departments participating in the unit based campaign, nurses vaccinate about 3,500 employees a year—approximately one-quarter of hospital staff. Thousands more go to the vaccination clinics held in Phipps, the Outpatient Center and Blalock.
An annual flu vaccination is a must for the health and safety of patients, visitors, colleagues and family members. Those with weakened immune systems, in particular, are at high risk for severe complications of the flu. It’s a point that Carole Martens, director of facilities compliance for the Johns Hopkins Health System, stresses with the 1,000 employees in her department. “We are very focused on infection prevention and building a safe environment,” she says, “especially when studies show that patient mortality drops significantly when everybody who works at the hospital receives a flu shot. We take this as part of our mission.”