News Briefs

E-mail communications boost TB compliance

Christine Pionk, MS, RN, CS, solved an age-old employee health problem with a high-tech tool. She sends e-mail to communicate directly with employees and remind them of their annual tuberculosis screening. It’s a simple change, but one that has made a big difference. TB screening rates have risen from about 60% to more than 80%. "For years we’ve been trying to figure out how to increase our compliance rate with TB screening," says Pionk, a nurse practitioner in employee health at the University of Michigan Health Systems in Ann Arbor.

TB compliance is a common concern. She typically sent paper reminders about TB screening to supervisors, who would then alert their staff. But the chain of communication didn’t always work well and employees often failed to follow up.

Now, e-mail allows for swift notification. Even physicians are on the e-mail system. The employee health department also streamlined the process of screening follow-up. Employees can access a TB skin test form on the health system’s web site and bring it to the screening. Physicians and nurses in the units can read the test within 48-72 hours, and the employees fax the documented form back to employee health.

"If there’s any question, they contact us and we look at it," says Pionk. Concerns about confidentiality limit some other uses of e-mail, but she says she uses it to remind employees about influenza vaccination and post-exposure follow-up testing. She is one of several employee health professionals who shared success stories at the conference of the Association of Occupational Health Professionals in Health Care (AOHP), held Oct. 16-19 in St. Louis.

The success stories offer a way for employee health professionals to share in the educational program of the conference, says Beverly Smith, RN, COHN, employee health nurse manager at Hamot Medical Center in Erie, PA, and region director and conference chair for AOHP. The personal experiences also fit into the conference theme of "Unlock the Gates to Success."

While AOHP hosted leading experts in the fields of ergonomics, regulatory compliance, and bioterrorism preparedness, the success stories offered a new perspective, Smith says. "It’s nice to hear about how people actually made some things work for them," she says. "After hearing the theory [in conference sessions], sometimes you wonder, How can I put that into practice?’"

California passes paid family leave bill

If all things truly do start on the West Coast, then one day the entire nation may provide paid family leave. On Sept. 23, 2002, the state of California passed the nation’s first comprehensive paid family leave law. The new law will provide six weeks of paid leave to workers who take time off to care for a new child or seriously ill family member.

"We expect the California measure to lead to advances across the country," predicts Judith L. Lichtman, president of the Washington, DC-based National Partnership for Women & Families. "Right now, our nation’s policies are badly out of synch with the needs of working families. But America is much closer to becoming a nation in which no worker has to choose between a paycheck and caring for a family member who faces a medical emergency."

Program funded by employees

The new law will give Californians partial pay when they take leave to care for a seriously ill family member or a new baby. It provides six weeks of partial pay to workers who take family leave, funded through the State Disability Insurance program. The program will be funded entirely by employees; employers will contribute nothing. The average employee payment will be less than three dollars per month. The law will become operative on Jan. 1, 2004, and benefits will be payable for leave that begins on or after July 1, 2004.

"The Family & Medical Leave Act did a tremendous amount to help working Americans take time off to care for loved ones, but too many workers cannot afford to take leave when their families need them the most," notes Lichtman. "Paid leave is the next step that America’s working families urgently need."

[For more information, contact: National Partnership for Women & Families, 1875 Connecticut Ave. N.W., Suite 710, Washington, DC 20009. Telephone: (202) 986-2600. Fax: (202) 986-2539.]

Study pushes nurse retention strategies

A study released in the September/October 2002 issue of Health Affairs says that approximately 120,000 RNs ages 43 or younger were either not working or are working in other fields in 2000. The most common reasons given for working in other fields were:

  • better hours;
  • more rewarding work;
  • better pay.

The study, which was conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, suggests that enhanced career ladders, better wages, flexible hours, and child care might help attract some RNs back into the work force. It also finds an increasing proportion of new RNs not working in nursing — particularly men.

(For more information, visit the publication’s web site: