Any hospital in the Garden State would advise residents to get a flu shot every year, no matter how effective it may be against the current virus strains out in the community.

Some hospitals may want to spend more time promoting that message to their own staff.

Last flu season, less than 60 percent of workers at nine New Jersey hospitals were vaccinated against influenza, according to federal data. At another 11 hospitals, the vaccination rate among employees was at 75 percent or below.

The statewide rate of vaccinated hospital workers, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, was 84 percent, compared to a national rate of 88 percent.

Hospitals create their own vaccine recommendations or requirements for employees, which can include physicians, nurses, receptionists and maintenance workers, among others.

Kerry McKean-Kelly, of the New Jersey Hospital Association, said certain employees have valid reasons for skipping out on a vaccine, such as allergies or religion-based exemptions. For others, it may just be a choice.

"We believe healthcare workers should get a flu shot. It's the best way to protect them and also their patients," McKean-Kelly said.

The New Jersey Department of Health said a month-long effort is underway to promote the importance of vaccination among healthcare workers. The department noted 98 percent of Penn Medicine Princeton Health staff have been vaccinated against flu this season, which has killed three New Jersey children and tallied another 18,000 confirmed cases among Garden State residents.

According to Dottie Faas, an employee health specialist with CentraState, the vaccination rate among their 2,000-plus employees for the 2017-18 flu season is at 84 percent throughout the whole healthcare system, including the main Freehold campus.

"If you do not get a flu vaccine, you're required to wear a mask when you're providing care to a patient," Faas said. "Consequence for non-compliance with the vaccine is documentation in an employee's HR file, which may impact their overall appraisal score during the year, unless they have a medical or religious exemption."

Faas said she continues to collect "flu consents" on a daily basis from new employees and "stragglers," and there are a lot of employees who've received the vaccine but have not provided the hospital with proper documentation.

According to the federal data, vaccination rates among employees registered below 60 percent last flu season at Inspira Health Network's three hospitals in Elmer, Vineland and Woodbury.

After gathering information about mandatory vaccination policies used by other health systems, Inspira established a mandate for the 2017-18 season.

"In our first year under the new policy, we have achieved a network-wide employee flu-vaccination rate greater than 99 percent," said Paul Lambrecht, vice president of quality and patient safety.

Flu vaccinations are mandatory at Ocean Medical Center and Southern Ocean Medical Center, said a spokesperson for Hackensack Meridian Health. Their latest review recorded vaccination rates of 81 percent at Ocean Medical Center in Brick and 88 percent at Southern Ocean in Manahawkin.

Team members who decline are required to wear a mask until they are notified that the requirement has been lifted.

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