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(NECN: Mike Cronin) - Some local hospitals are taking steps to protect patients from the flu virus.
Employees who have not received a flu shot will be required to wear surgical masks. It’s a move hospital officials say is critical to patient safety.
Beginning Wednesday, employees at Harrington Healthcare System who haven't received the flu vaccine must start wearing surgical masks.
"So for employees who are vaccinated, we've minimized or eliminated the risk almost completely. For those that are not, we want to take other precautions such as the mask,” says CEO Ed Moore.
Harrington President Moore says 75-percent of employees already have the flu shot. They are signified by a blue dot on their name badges. All others must wear the masks if they're within three feet of the patient.
"It's not like we expect to have people everywhere in the hospital walking around with masks. I want to be clear about that."
The policy is similar at other hospitals like UMass Memorial. It's supposed to protect patients during what Dr. Robert Klugman expects to be a busy flu season. He says there's been a spike in activity over the last two weeks across the country.
"Last year was very mild, the weather was mild, but this year we're really anticipating heavy flu activity,” Dr. Klugman says.
He works at UMass Memorial, which earlier this year also adopted an employee vaccination policy. Last year, on a volunteer basis, 61-percent of workers got the flu vaccine. That number is now more than 90-percent.
"It's really about keeping people safe. We know the flu vaccine is the safest, second best is masking. Nothing's perfect, but it's the best known in the world right now for keeping patients safe,” he says.
Dr. Klugman says Connecticut and Rhode Island mandate hospital employees receive the vaccine. While Massachusetts doesn't, Dr. Klugman thinks that could change.
"I suspect as time goes on, the requirement will likely raise across the country as more and more states mandate vaccinations."