Businesses’ bottom line could suffer if they don’t help their employees stay healthy this upcoming flu season.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 111 million workdays are lost nationwide every year due to flu sickness, amounting to about $7 billion in lost productivity.
Influenza hit Washoe County hard last year. Of 782 reported cases, 102 or 13 percent of the patients had to be hospitalized, compared to just 3 percent the prior year.
So what can area businesses do to prevent the flu from ravaging the workplace this winter?
For one, companies can host on-site flu vaccinations.
“Many healthcare plans cover it and employers don’t know and don’t take advantage of it,” said Heidi Parker, executive director, Immunize Nevada, a vaccination advocacy group.
Parker said insurance providers will help businesses by finding medical personnel to contract to administer shots and covering the costs for all covered employees.
NV Energy hosts flu shot clinics annually for its 2,470 employees and spouses or domestic partners. About 300 people usually take advantage of it, according to Joe LaBarbara, benefits manager for the electric utility.
“It’s a component of our overall wellness program or philosophy,” said LaBarbara.
The company offers the clinics in both southern and northern Nevada locations and contracts with Northern Nevada Medical Group for shots given in its Reno office.
Immunize Nevada will also help businesses find medical personnel to staff in-house flu vaccinations.
The advocacy group works with Nevada Business Group on Health, a coalition of 60 local, self-insured businesses which represent about 30,000 employees, said Parker.
Immunize Nevada exhibited at the organization’s health summit last week in Incline Village and is attending this week’s NCET Small Business Expo hosted by Nevada’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology at the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa on Sept. 26 as well The Chamber’s The Employer Healthcare Forum Oct. 16 at the Grand Sierra Resort.
In addition to matchmaking businesses with medical contractors for on-site shots, Immunize Nevada provides informational materials such as break room posters and paycheck stuffers to educate and encourage employees to get vaccinated at off-site locations if a company isn’t hosting its own clinics.
The group’s flu-specific Web site – influencenevada.org – has a clinic locator to find pharmacies and other third-party locations for the flu vaccine.
There are various kinds of vaccines, including heavy-duty doses for seniors, nasal spray for young children and shots that protect against four strains of the virus and shots that cover three strains. But Parker said the general rule is to get vaccinated and not postpone it if the optimal solution isn’t yet available.
“It’s highly recommend you get vaccinated and not wait,” said Parker.
The flu season generally runs from January through March in the West, but can start earlier so the sooner the better for vaccinations.
“The only thing predictable about the flu is that it’s unpredictable,” she said.
There are other things businesses can do to help prevent an outbreak of the flu.
TotalWellness, a wellness program consultant in Omaha, suggests employers educate employees about flu symptoms so workers stay home while they are contagious.
Companies can also improve hygiene at work locations by encouraging hand washing and providing sanitizing lotions throughout the workplace.
Businesses can also review telecommuting policies to let employees take home laptops and work from home if necessary.
Finally, said TotalWellness, it’s a good idea for an employer to have contingency plans for vital work in case all else fails and much of its workforce is laid up with the flu.