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Hospitals offering flu vaccine to those affiliated with facility

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Hospitals are ramping up efforts to vaccinate all employees before the flu season hits.

Anyone who has a direct affiliation with a hospital within the state and does not get a flu shot this year will be required to wear a mask when at the facility, thanks to a new state mandate.

“If they refuse for some health reason and cannot take the vaccine, any employee, board member, auxilian or anybody who has a formal affiliation with the hospital” must wear a mask, Massena Memorial Hospital CEO Charles F. Fahd II told members of the hospital’s board of managers this week.

Twelve-hour vaccination clinics will begin at Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center Oct. 7. But Kim S. Weir, employee health nurse, said she began vaccinating employees Monday.

Ms. Weir and staff are going floor-to-floor with a mobile vaccination cart. She is offering a variety of injections – from intradermal or baby needle, to nasal vaccinations.

“We’re vaccinating people at their convenience,” Ms. Weir said. “We’re trying to make it as accessible as possible.”

As an incentive, the Claxton-Hepburn is also offering vaccinations for household and family members of employees.

Ms. Weir said employees will not have to wear masks until the State Commissioner of Public Health determines that flu is prevalent in the area.

“We have a working date of Oct. 31 to have the staff vaccinated by then,” Ms. Weir said. “But we could notice breakouts of flu cases before the commissioner is able to make an announcement, so we want to be prepared.”

The move was mandated by new rules adopted by the state Department of Health this year that require all health care workers — volunteers included — at hospitals, nursing homes and other health care agencies to either get a flu shot or wear a mask when working with patients.

Ms. Weir said the state wants to raise the vaccination rate, which typically hovers around 50 percent at most hospitals.

“We have a vaccination rate of about 74 percent last year,” she said. “It’s very difficult to get the vaccination rate up to 90 percent. But the state wants to get those numbers up.”

State Health Commissioner Nirav R. Shah said, “This regulation will enable health care workers to meet their obligation to do no harm to patients” and will protect workers, as well.

Mr. Fahd invited board members to take advantage of the flu clinics being offered at the hospital. One clinic was held this week, and others will be held Oct. 3, 15 and 16.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that, although the timing of flu can vary from season to season, it can begin in early October and commonly peaks in January or February. The agency recommends an annual flu vaccine for everyone 6 months and older.

Employees who receive the flu vaccine will have a dot placed on their name badge, according to the MMH CEO.

While the hospital is taking precautions with those affiliated with the facility, Mr. Fahd said, visitors will not be affected. He said the state health commissioner advised against going so far as to require vaccination of the visiting public.

Rebecca J. Faber, spokeswoman for Canton-Potsdam Hospital, Potsdam, said her hospital also is abiding by the regulation, but it’s nothing new for the facility.

“We have seasonal flu vaccine clinics every season. We offer the vaccine to all employees and volunteers. This year it’s mandated,” she said. The vaccine changes to account for the different strains of the flu every year, she said.

Those who are particularly vulnerable to the flu are children under 2 years of age, although the elderly also are susceptible.

The best way to protect themselves and others from the flu is to receive the flu shot and practice good hand hygiene.

“I look at this not as a penalty,” Ms. Weir said. “It’s the staff’s choice whether to wear a mask. It could be for health reasons they decline it. But if our main goal is the safety of the patients, the right thing to do is to get vaccinated.”

Besides the flu clinics at Massena Memorial and Canton-Potsdam hospitals, the St. Lawrence County Health Department also has scheduled clinics during October. Appointments are appreciated, but not required by calling 386-2325.

The clinics will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. Tuesday at the Canton Human Services Center; 1 to 3 p.m. Oct. 7 at Cambray Courts, Gouverneur; 1 to 3 p.m. Oct. 9 at the Massena Community Center; 9 a.m. to noon Oct. 8 at Riverview Towers in Ogdensburg; 1 to 3 p.m. Oct. 21 at New Home Community Church, Potsdam; and 1 to 3 p.m. Oct. 29 at the Canton Human Services Center. Pneumonia shots also will be available.

The cost is $30 for flu shots and $75 for pneumonia shots, and the department will bill Medicare for flu and pneumonia vaccinations. Medicare recipients must bring their Medicare card with them to the clinics.

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