Sometimes, simple, visible, and relatively cheap solutions look like they will be effective, but miss dangerous underlying issues. This is the case with hospitals that have policies for mandatory masks of healthcare workers. If you really want to understand best ways for healthcare organizations to minimize the spread of influenza check out these recommendations by the Massachussets Nurses Association excerpted below: (Or for a more in depth look at the issue: Nurses Union Opposes Mandatory Masking of Healthy Nurses. )
–Ensure Safe and appropriate RN and support staff levels that allow for proper care of patients and infection control procedures. In fact, inadequate staffing is a major cause of all types of hospital acquired infections. Understaffing of RNs and other staff makes it more difficult to maintain appropriate hand washing and infection control procedures. Cuts in housekeeping staff make it more difficult to maintain sanitary conditions that will prevent the spread of infection in hospitals.
– Educate all staff to appropriate infection prevention practices.
– Practice good hand hygiene.
– Educate all patients, employees, vendors and visitors about the flu vaccine (VIS).
– Voluntary Flu Vaccination — The influenza (flu), vaccine is partially protective against three viruses. The published effectiveness rate of this vaccine gives individuals approximately a 50 chance of contracting the flu, but there are other influenza like illnesses (ILI), for which there are no vaccines. The current flu vaccine protects against the three viruses that are highly virule percentnt. The vaccine helps protect high risk patients, healthcare workers and the community.
– Establish and enforce guidelines by Environmental Services (housekeeping and food service staff), to include cleaning surfaces and disinfecting patient rooms. The staff need education on when, where and how to clean to prevent the transmission of influenza.
– Screen patients in the Emergency Department and mask patients-who are positive for influenza. After appropriate treatment, they may be well enough to be sent home to recover. If patients require admission, they need an isolation room with appropriate precautions.
– Restrict visitors and vendors from close patient contact, or have them wear personal protective equipment when visiting a patient.
– Create better illness prevention policies! Nurses and health care workers need to be allowed to utilize sick time and stay home if they are ill, as recommended by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Nurses should not be disciplined for taking the time necessary to recover.
I highlighted a few of these recommendations in BLUE (like enough staff and time to do things right) because they will contribute to safer care and healthier workplaces for patients and all healthcare workers! Brava, MNA!