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Hospitals honored for flu-prevention efforts

Nearly 200 Minnesota hospitals and nursing homes increased their rates of influenza vaccination among their health care workers in 2011-12 as participants in the award-winning FluSafe program of the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH).

In the second year of the FluSafe program, 197 health care facilities participated during the 2011-12 flu season, up from 136 the first year. A total of 144 facilities achieved vaccination rates of at least 70 percent, up from 109 facilities during the first year. Among the 2011-12 participants, 42 reached vaccination levels of 90 percent or greater, earning blue ribbons; 45 were in the 80-89 percent range, earning red ribbons; and 57 reached 70-79 percent, earning white ribbons. All facilities that participate, even those not reaching 70 percent coverage rates, are taking important steps to vaccinate more health care workers, MDH officials said.

This year's ribbon-earning facilities were announced today at a news conference at MDH offices in St. Paul.

The FluSafe program aims to get all health care personnel, except those with medical exemptions, at hospitals and nursing homes in Minnesota vaccinated against influenza each season. Unvaccinated health care workers can pass highly contagious influenza to their patients, many of whom are at high risk for complications from influenza. National rates of influenza vaccination of health care workers are estimated at 63.5 percent.

"While Minnesota's rates are slightly better, at about 72 percent overall, that's still too low to adequately protect patients," said Kristen Ehresmann, director of Infectious Disease Epidemiology Prevention and Control at MDH.

Ehresmann said she was pleased with the increased number of participants in the FluSafe program this past year and the improvements they've made in their vaccination rates. "There were 88 facilities new to the program this year, but with 145 hospitals and about 375 nursing homes in the state, MDH hopes that the program will continue to grow, encouraging more facilities to take action and participate."

Under the FluSafe program, health care facilities receive guidance and access to tools and promotional materials from MDH and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to help them increase their rates. The facilities record and document their vaccination rates through the state's electronic immunization information system, the Minnesota Immunization Information Connection (MIIC).

"The program benefits facilities," said program coordinator Jennifer Heath. "It shows patients and families that the facility's employees are committed to patient safety by actively fighting influenza infection. Annual vaccination keeps workers and their families healthier, too."

The FluSafe program received national recognition in May when it earned a 2012 Immunization Excellence Award from the National Influenza Vaccine Summit (NIVS). FluSafe was named a National Winner in the Healthcare Personnel Campaign category, in large part due to its use of MIIC. The system represents an advance over other health care personnel vaccination programs, Heath said, in that MIIC provides consistent documentation of vaccination rates and allows for consistent comparisons of formally documented rates --something not possible with programs that rely on self-reported data. Another advantage of using MIIC is that it allows sites to track their own progress over the course of each season.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has set a goal of vaccinating 90 percent of health care personnel in its Healthy People 2020 objectives. Minnesota has a similar goal.

"It's our intent that the FluSafe program will help more and more health care facilities achieve that goal until Minnesota as a whole has 90 percent of its health care personnel vaccinated against influenza," Ehresmann said. "That would be a tremendous level of protection for facilities' patients and their personnel."

More information on the FluSafe program, including a list of the 2011-12 facilities earning blue, red and white ribbons, can be found on the MDH web site at