Healthcare workers will take every precaution necessary to protect the public from the flu, including wearing protective masks.
Earlier this year, the New York State Department of Health put forth a regulation that required all medical staff and healthcare personnel-including volunteers-to receive a flu vaccination or wear a protective mask as an alternative. The regulation seeks to prevent the transmission of influenza to patients, visitors and senior housing residents during upcoming flu seasons.
"It's safer this way," said Dr. Albert Persia, medical director at Lutheran Senior Care and Youth Services. "It's hard to determine how exactly the flu spreads, but we want to make every effort to protect our residents and visitors."
From left, Melinda VanArsdale, WCA Hospital occupational health collection technician, Samantha Riefstahl, WCA Hospital occupational health clerk, Mary Beth Johnson, R.N., WCA Hospital occupational health nurse coordinator.
According to the NYSDOH, the regulation was implemented because of a "large body of evidence" that suggested healthcare workers across the state-who were not vaccinated-were posing a risk to patients by inadvertently transmitting the influenza virus. Conversely, healthcare workers were also at risk when exposed to infected patients.
While masks, according to Dr. Persia, are not as effective as vaccinations, they can still act as a viable deterrent, particularly when dealing with patients who are more susceptible to contracting diseases such as the elderly, the young or those with chronic medical conditions.
"(This regulation) is an important step," said Dr. Todd Jacobson, medical director of Occupational Health at WCA Hospital. "We've actually been proactive and started doing this last year. It's worked well and we've had no problems."
WCA Hospital has already begun administering vaccinations to its employees and will await a determination by the New York state health commissioner as to when "influenza season" begins. At that time, all employees and volunteers who have not been vaccinated will begin to wear their protective masks.
Both Lutheran and WCA Hospital want to assure the public that the new regulation is nothing to worry about.
"People shouldn't feel threatened or afraid (of seeing our personnel in masks)," Jacobson said. "We're doing this to help them."
Typical flu seasons in New York state fluctuate yearly, with the last one stretching from Nov. 24, 2012 to April 20 of this year according to the NYSDOH. For more information on the flu virus and how to protect against it, visit the NYSDOH website at: www.health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/influenza/seasonal