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Hospitals stiffen employee flu vaccination policies

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Hospitals stiffen employee flu vaccination policies
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Hospitals are ramping up their flu vaccination policies to better protect patients. Some places are even threatening to fire employees who don't get the immunization. Our Katie Gibas takes a look at how Syracuse hospitals plan to get more employees vaccinated.

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Every year, thousands of people in U.S. die from the flu. It's a particular concern for people in the hospital.

"Hospitalized people are at a much greater risk of serious consequences if they come down with the flu. And we know the flu is transmitted person to person, so if we can prevent our hospital staff from getting influenza, we can dramatically reduce the risk that they're going to give it to the patients,"said Dr. Helen Jacoby, the St. Joseph's Infectious Diseases Medical Director.

That's why hospitals are implementing stricter policies on employees getting the flu vaccine. All medical facilities are making the shot or nasal spray readily available and urging employees to get immunized.

"Health care workers who aren't vaccinated can actually pass on the flu even before they become ill, usually 24 hours before they develop symptoms," said K. Bruce Simmons, the Upstate Employee Student Health Director.

St. Joe's and Rome Memorial are requiring those who don't get vaccinated to wear a mask when they interact with patients. At St. Joe's, all new hires also have to get the shot every year as a condition of their employment. They've already seen as many as 80 percent get immunized, compared with 60 percent last year.

"If we can get over 90 percent vaccination rate, if this works well, I think we might just continue like this," said Jacoby.

People who work at Upstate, the VA and St. Joe's are encouraged to wear a sticker on their ID badges signifying that they got the shot.

"Those that have flu shots should be displaying an orange dot and hopefully that will encourage others to get the flu shot," said Simmons.

The hospitals that haven't required the vaccine do have policies to send sick employees home. Many places say they haven't mandated the immunization in part because they would likely have to negotiate the policy with their unions.

"It's a tough sell. People don't want to be told what to do. And I get that. But there's a lot at stake here. We do plan to meet with our union and really encourage them to help us to get their membership getting flu shots," said Scott Treatman, the Employee Health Director at Crouse Hospital.

Some health care experts favor a state law requiring all health care workers to get the vaccine.

Some hospitals are even offering financial incentives to get the flu vaccine. At Crouse, the first thousand people to get the shot received lottery tickets, some of whom won $75.

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