Average isn’t good enough when it comes to influenza vaccination rates among staffers at nursing homes, a new poll suggests.
The survey, from the National Poll on Healthy Aging and conducted by the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, found significant support among people over age 50 for a flu vaccine requirement for all staff in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
“Our hospitals have made progress in this arena, and I think [even] since the time that I’ve been a physician it used to be sort of sporadic,” Dr. Preeti Malani of the University of Michigan Medical School told Skilled Nursing News. “A lot of nursing homes maybe are still in that mode, not quite as formalized as it is in hospitals.”
Of workers in long-term care (LTC) settings, 68% get the flu vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By contrast, 92% of hospital workers receive the shots.
For many survey respondents, the LTC worker rate wasn’t acceptable. Forty percent said if they knew one in three staffers at a particular nursing home was not vaccinated against the flu, they would be much less likely to choose that facility, while another 30% said they would be slightly less likely to choose that facility.
Malani, who has a background as a geriatrician, directed the poll. The survey, which was sponsored by AARP and Michigan Medicine, the university’s academic medical center, used a nationally representative sample of 2,007 Americans between ages 50 and 80. In addition to 73% of respondents feeling that nursing home staff should definitely be vaccinated, 71% felt the same for non-medical staff. An additional 20% felt staff should possibly be required to get vaccinated.
Nursing homes and other LTC facilities have discretion over whether they disclose their flu vaccination policies and practices, but Malani said nursing homes can set themselves apart if they choose to create messages based on that information.
“It could be as simple as offering that information and saying ‘this is the percentage of our staff that have been vaccinated,’ ” she told SNN.
If a nursing facility wants to improve its flu vaccination rate, one of the most important steps it can take is to make it easy for employees to get a vaccine on site, Malani emphasized. For many nursing home workers, taking the extra step to go to a doctor or a pharmacy is a significant hindrance, especially if they have other commitments.
“A lot of people working in these settings, they may go to another job when they’re done,” she noted. “I think the more convenient you make it, the more uptake you’ll have, too.”
The poll respondents seemed to agree, with a wide majority believing nursing homes should offer staff the vaccines at work at no charge. But they were less emphatic when it came to vaccination policies for visitors, with only 25% believing visitors should be required to be vaccinated before visiting loved ones in a nursing homes. But because of how severe the flu can be for older adults in a nursing home, visitors shouldn’t be overlooked either, Malani said.
“Someone who’s sick and vulnerable who gets sick with influenza, they’re often going to be hospitalized, and they can spread it to other residents,” she said.
Written by Maggie Flynn