A report that the Washington State Hospital Association is pushing for mandatory flu vaccination of health care workers takes on new urgency in the face of a study that warns 15 states — including Washington, California, Oregon and Arizona — could run out of hospital beds around the time the swine flu outbreak peaks.
The number of people hospitalized at the peak of the swine flu outbreak could hit 168,000 California and 30,500 in Washington, according to the report from the nonprofit Trust for America’s Health. The public health advocacy group used government flu computer models to estimate how quickly hospitals might fill up during a mild pandemic like swine flu is predicted to be, the Associated Press reports.
Even though only a fraction would be sick enough to be hospitalized, health officials are bracing: When H1N1 first appeared in the spring, more than 44,000 people visited emergency rooms in hard-hit New York City, the report noted. Just sorting out which patients are sick enough to be admitted from the vast majority who need to go home is a big job. And hospital capacity varies widely.
By the outbreak’s peak, the new report suggests Delaware and Connecticut hospitals would fill up soonest. Also on that list: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.
The Washington State Hospital Association wants to make flu shots a job requirement for health care workers, and is pushing the state to make that happen. Already, one hospital in the state requires its workers to get the flu shot, and is expected to announce it will add the swine flu shot to that list, the Seattle Times reports.
In New York this week, state health care workers protested a similar requirement with protests and rallies. Washington Secretary of Health Mary Selecky said she does not believe she has the legal authority to impose the order. Even is she did, Selecky says, vaccinations should remain voluntary.
But the hospital association disagrees. Even though individual hospitals have the right to require vaccinations, the association wants a statewide policy of mandated vaccinations. So far, only Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle has required the flu vaccine, and saw its vaccination rates among employees rise from 54 percent to 98 percent.
“Hospital workers who don’t get vaccinated can give patients the flu,” said Cassie Sauer, a spokeswoman for the hospital association. “That’s not acceptable.”
The only other workforce where the swine flu vaccine is mandatory is the military. Members will begin getting the vaccine in the next week.
— Rita Hibbard