Five Steps to Improve Your Hospital's H1N1 Readiness

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CEOs will want to talk to their emergency management coordinators and infection preventionists about plans to handle a predicted spike in H1N1 swine flu and seasonal flu cases this fall.

Federal health officials recently held a conference call with hospital planners to discuss H1N1 response efforts.

Patient surges in ERs and ICUs are likely complications hospitals will need to handle, even if the H1N1 strain remain relatively mild, said Nicole Lurie, MD, assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Lurie and others offered five tips for CEOs and hospitals to stay ahead of H1N1 and seasonal flu cases in the community:

1. Evaluate your sick leave policies.
Department managers and the human resources office should have mechanisms in place to track employee absenteeism rates daily should an H1N1 or seasonal flu outbreak occur, health officials said.
Hospitals also need to review their sick leave policies in light of the H1N1 pandemic, said Jeff Hageman, an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This is an important interim recommendation from the CDC that hasn't received as much attention as other recommendations.

Employees who contract the flu may either need to stay home to recover or not show up to work if they're fearful or have ill family members.

The CDC recommends that in communities with H1N1 outbreaks, healthcare workers who become ill with the flu remain away from work for seven days or until the symptoms have resolved, whichever is longer.

Traditionally, many healthcare workers will come into work with flu symptoms, so such behavior is a real threat this fall, said Tom Michaels, an infection preventionist at Health Partners Medical Group, a physician group with locations throughout northwest Indiana and southwest Michigan.

Don't forget to check in with your contractors to find out how their sick leave policies might affect the hospital's day-to-day operations and supply chains, Hageman said.

2. Pay attention to clinics and physician offices.
Expect the first signs of trouble with H1N1 to occur in these settings, and with that in mind educate employees there, Michaels said.

This spring's first H1N1 wave hit Health Partners Medical Group's clinics the hardest, not the group's affiliated hospitals, he said.