Intermountain Healthcare delivers mandatory flu shot policy, others strive for higher immunization rates

Published: Friday, July 29 2011 7:00 p.m. MDT

While all health care systems see patient care and safety as a top priority, some don't see the need to impose rules on vaccinations. And employees opting out of the various immunization programs at Utah hospitals are required to wear a mask or be reassigned through the duration of flu season, which typically starts in November and sometimes lasts until May.

MountainStar Healthcare, which oversees six hospitals from Brigham City to Payson, achieved a 97 percent vaccination rate in 2009 and 95 percent in 2010. Last year, 5 percent opted out for religious, medical or philosophical reasons, according to Kevin Allred, MountainStar's vice president of human resources. He said employees there "will again take action to protect patients, caregivers, other health care workers and the community at large from influenza" this year.

Like most health care systems, including Intermountain, MountainStar offers the influenza vaccinations to employees at no cost.

University of Utah Health Care spokesman Chris Nelson said flu shots are not imposed on every employee within their organization, but the system has a goal of 100 percent documentation, meaning everyone who declines the vaccine must have a written and approved reason. Anyone who does get sick is required to sit out of work until after their fever is gone.

"We really do feel a responsibility to our patients that our staff not contribute to disease," Nelson said.

Every year, 5 to 20 percent of Americans get the flu, according to the CDC. Approximately 200,000 are hospitalized from the sickness and 36,000 die from influenza related infections. Utah does not have a statewide immunization law that requires flu shots in any form.

Parents are encouraged to immunize their children or provide a letter of exemption to their corresponding school districts opting them out of the strictly scheduled program of immunizations through junior high school age.

Employees at Intermountain Healthcare have until Oct. 31 to inform management of their choice.

"We're doing this in effort to really provide the best safety for patients in our hospitals and clinics during flu season and to really seriously follow through on our mission to provide the best care for the patients that we can," Wallace said.

Email: wleonard@desnews.com

Twitter: wendyleonards

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