Require employee flu shots

Being told what to do exposes a stubborn streak in many of us. We’re individuals, after all. It’s in our nature.

But when health-care workers who have contact with patients resist taking a basic, common-sense step to protect patient safety, they’ve taken their inner rebel a step too far.

The Everett Clinic is right to require its employees to get a flu vaccination. Given data that show an alarming number of health-care workers fail to get vaccinated, putting patients at unacceptable risk, it’s the only responsible choice. Get vaccinated or you may lose your job.

Reasons that health-care workers don’t get a flu shot or a dose of nasal mist range from misinformation about vaccinations to a simple, selfish attitude of “Don’t tell me what to do.” Flu vaccines are safe, and they offer the most effective way to prevent viruses that kill roughly 40,000 Americans a year. A precaution that health officials recommend for most of the general population shouldn’t be ignored by those on the front lines of health-care delivery.

Federal data show that only about half of health-care workers nationwide have been getting flu shots in recent years. The record was better during last year’s swine flu episode, at least locally, but still far from good enough.

A medical facility should be where people go to get better, not sicker.

Providence Regional Medical Center Everett is also requiring employees to get vaccinated, or to sign a form stating why they won’t. In such cases, employees may be required to wear a medical mask to minimize the risk to patients.

Cascade Valley Hospital in Arlington and Valley General Hospital in Monroe haven’t made final decisions about whether to require flu vaccinations for employees, Herald health reporter Sharon Salyer reported Monday. Cascade Valley CEO Clark Jones, trying hard to be sensitive to employees, noted that making something mandatory can stir negative feelings. We’re all for happy workplaces, but in a choice between employee satisfaction and patient safety, we’ll take the latter every time.

The Everett Clinic’s step is the boldest so far in Snohomish County, but the idea is hardly cutting edge. A growing list of leading medical organizations have called for mandatory flu vaccinations for health-care workers, including American Academy of Pediatrics, the Infectious Diseases Society of America, the National Patient Safety Foundation, the Society of Healthcare Epidemiology of America and the Washington State Hospital Association.

In the complex world of health care, it’s as close as you can get to a no-brainer.