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October 15, 2013

Health-care providers take steps to fight flu

PLATTSBURGH — Health-care providers across the region are preparing for increased mandates to protect themselves — and their patients — from the influenza virus.

The New York State Department of Health is requiring all health-care workers who have not been vaccinated against the flu to wear protective masks during the flu season while working in areas where patients may be present.

“When the commissioner (of the State Department of Health) gives the word (that the flu season is prevalent in a particular area), then we need to be up and running (with the new policy),” said Joanne Swiesz, director of Patient Services for the Clinton County Health Department.

“It’s our way to help protect the public,” she added. “If we’re going to talk the talk (by recommending the public receives flu vaccinations), then we need to walk the walk.”

The Clinton County Health Department and other health-care facilities across the region have been promoting flu vaccines for staff members over the past several years, but the formalized requirements from the State Health Department will enhance statewide record keeping, Swiesz noted.

“As we submit more formal reports, the state will have a better handle on how many (providers) received their vaccinations,” she said.

The increased emphasis on flu vaccinations will enhance the department’s efforts to educate the public about the importance of vaccinations and the dangers of the virus, she added.

“The flu can be very dangerous, especially for the elderly and the very young,” she said. “Today, there are so many different ways to deliver the vaccine, (including) high-dose vaccines for people over 65, which is very effective in protecting seniors.”

CVPH Medical Center has also begun emphasizing the new mandates by recently offering a free clinic for all staff members.

The hospital has been providing flu vaccines for its employees and volunteers for several years, with as many as 1,500 people receiving the shots annually.

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