Leadership

Associations Help Battle the Flu in Massachusetts

By / Jan 14, 2013 (iStockphoto/Thinkstock)

The state is reeling from the unusually strong (and early) flu season. Statewide healthcare associations are stepping up to offer assistance.

Flu season arrived ahead of schedule this year and is hitting the nation hard—especially in Massachusetts, where Boston Mayor Thomas Menino declared a public health emergency last week.

[There are] a lot of people vaccinated but still getting the flu, and we are seeing it early.

“This is the worst flu season we’ve seen since 2009, and people should take the threat of flu seriously,” Menino said in a statement. “This is not only a health concern, but also an economic concern for families.”

“[There are] a lot of people vaccinated but still getting the flu, and we are seeing it early,” Dr. Alasdair Conn, chief of emergency medical services at Massachusetts General Hospital, told WCVB in Boston.

Several statewide associations in the healthcare sector are doing what they can to help, mainly by connecting their members with state health officials and sharing health and safety information with the public.

“Massachusetts providers are stretched thin due to the high volume of influenza patients, and many are at or over capacity right now,” said Pat Noga, vice president of clinical affairs for the Massachusetts Hospital Association. “MHA is coordinating conference calls for our member hospitals with the Department of Public Health and its emergency preparedness staff in order to share information and look for ways to collaborate on operational and clinical issues.”

Open communication has been the major focus for the Massachusetts Medical Society, which has worked closely with the DPH in recent years to develop a system for responding to emergencies.

“A lot of what our role ends up being is to communicate out to the medical community, primarily physicians, given that that’s our membership, but also to other healthcare providers,” said Susan Webb, MMS’s director of public health and education.

“What will probably start becoming an issue is staffing,” said Webb. “People’s kids are going to get sick, and people’s parents are going to get sick, and if the healthcare providers themselves haven’t gotten the vaccine, they’re going to get sick.”

When emergencies like the current flu outbreak arise, MMS activates a flu advisory listserver for members to share resources and information about vaccination availability. “One of the reasons we like that, in particular, is it’s all this-is-what-you-need-to-know-today kind of stuff,” said Webb. Educational materials are available to members, and a flu toolkit can be opened up “if it were to become a worse situation.”

“We know we’re going to get the flu every year,” she said. “But how robust of a flu season is it going to be is not predictable. So we do a lot with messaging, in terms of how to be prepared for a flu season.”

How has your association tackled emergency preparedness? Share your tips in the comments.

Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. More »

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