NEW YORK NURSE: September 2009
The emergency state regulation requiring all healthcare personnel to obtain influenza vaccinations took effect in mid-August and will apply to the coming flu season.
As reported in the July/August issue of New York Nurse, the regulation affects all healthcare personnel, both paid and unpaid, who interact with patients in hospitals, diagnostic and treatment centers, certified home health agencies, long-term healthcare programs, AIDS home care programs, licensed home care services, and hospices. It does not affect nursing home personnel; an immunization mandate for them would have to be enacted through legislation.
A worker will be exempt from vaccination only if a physician or nurse practitioner certifies that it is medically contraindicated for that individual.
NYSNA staff members have met with both state Health Commissioner Richard Daines and Richard Gottfried, chair of the Health Committee in the State Assembly. After the conversation with Gottfried, NYSNA and other members of the New York Committee on Safety and Health jointly sent a message to legislators and policymakers.
“In our meeting with Commissioner Daines, many of our questions went unanswered,” said Renée Gecsedi, director the NYSNA Education, Practice & Research Program. “He was determined that the regulation would go forward, regardless of the difficulties it will present for healthcare personnel and the likelihood that it will not be effective in preventing the spread of infection.”
Some of these questions are:
The details of implementing the regulation will be left up to individual facilities, which are supposed to submit plans to DOH in September.
“NYSNA intends to monitor how this regulation is implemented in each facility,” said Thomas Lowe, NYSNA occupational health and safety representative. “We will be relying on information supplied by our nursing representatives and our members, especially if policies appear to violate contract agreements.”
In an open letter to legislators and policymakers, a coalition formed by the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH) has stated its strong opposition to the emergency state regulation requiring all healthcare personnel to be immunized for influenza.
NYSNA drafted the letter on behalf of the coalition, which includes healthcare unions and professional groups.
The letter recommends that the regulation be withdrawn because of its numerous flaws and omissions. It also suggests that the state form a task force of stakeholders that would develop a more effective approach to prevent the spread of influenza.
Finally, the group proposes that the state Department of Health revise its guidelines on respiratory protection and establish the N-95 respirator as the minimum level of protection for direct care of patients who are suspected or confirmed to have an infectious respiratory illness.