Money talks: HCWs get 20 bucks for a flu shot

Incentive boosts hospital's flu vaccination

Every employee who gets a flu shot at McLeod Health in Florence, SC, walks away with a $20 bill. Yes, you heard that right. Twenty bucks for rolling up their sleeve and getting the vaccine that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The Joint Commission, and others say will help prevent the spread of flu to vulnerable patients.

The monetary incentive has been a simple and effective way to boost influenza vaccination. About 80% of the hospital's 4,500 employees receive the shot. The hospital budgets about $62,000 for the annual incentive, but in the long run, it's cost- effective, says Octavia Williams-Blake, BA, JD, director of Employee & Occupational Health, Workers Compensation, and Employee Safety.

With a dramatic rise in flu vaccination, absenteeism, and the use of sick leave during flu season has dropped, she reports.

Mondays are the most popular day for flu shots during the vaccination campaign — a time when employees are low on cash after the weekend. "You would not believe the number of people who say, 'I want the $20 shot.' They don't even know what it is," says Williams-Blake. "Of course, we take that opportunity to educate them."

In fact, education remains an important part of McLeod's flu campaign, with educational information in annual health and safety training and articles in the hospital newsletter.

McLeod still encounters employees with the usual misconceptions about the flu vaccine, such as the belief that one can get the flu from the shot. This year, the hospital also will focus on making the flu shot more accessible by delivering the vaccine to individual departments.

Serious message with a dose of humor

Average Joe is pouring a cup of coffee when a hospital co-worker asks him if he got the flu shot. The flu shot? Isn't that responsible for pandemic influenza, global warming, and all kinds of bad things? "I'm just going to stay away from people who are sick," he replies with a straight face.

That's just the opening of a new video produced by Marshfield (WI) Clinic in an effort to inject a little humor amid the education of health care workers who decline the flu vaccine.

The story of Average Joe (who really is a Marshfield employee) is spliced throughout the computer-based training for those who sign a flu vaccine declination. But it also is headed for YouTube.

Average Joe, an IT professional, does his best to avoid the flu shot. But then a patient sneezes all over a laptop — which is handed over to him to clean it up. He gets sick and ends up hospitalized with complications of the flu. The next year, he's seen running down the hall to be first in line for the flu vaccine.

"It gets the message across," says Bruce Cunha, RN, MS, COHN-S, manager of employee health and safety. "We're trying a little different approach."

The humorous approach takes the edge off the exhortations to get the flu shot. Last year, employees who opted out were required to talk to managers one-on-one. Some felt the flu vaccine efforts were too coercive, he says.

Last year, Marshfield vaccinated about two-thirds of its employees, including 70% of its patient care personnel. Efforts to boost that number have been frustrating. "It's pretty clear from the three years we've been using declination forms, we're getting the exact same excuses, even though we've educated employees," Cunha says. "The people who don't want to get it aren't going to get it."

If humor and other incentives awards don't work, the Marshfield Clinic may shift to a condition-of-employment policy, he says. Most likely, employees who refused the vaccine would be required to wear a mask but would not be fired, Cunha adds.