Working with a pandemic

    H1N1 swine flu has returned to Philadelphia after a summer hiatus. The public health department spoke with employers today, instructing them to be ready for a pandemic.

    Now that a swine flu pandemic is expected to strike Philadelphia, local health leaders are reaching out to employers to let them know how to handle sick staff.

    Listen: [audio:090924kgflu.mp3]

    First, the bad news: swine flu is here, and health officials say it’s likely to become widespread. That means employers should be prepared for the possibility of having half their staff out sick or taking care of sick family members. That’s according to Caroline Johnson, Philadelphia’s Director of Disease Control. She says bosses need to do things to accommodate these workers, like not requiring doctors’ notes.

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    Johnson: The reason for that is that we can’t risk driving patients to their doctors and their healthcare providers simply for administrative reasons.

    Johnson says that could stress an over-burdened health system. The good news, she says, is that the H1N1 flu is about as severe as regular flu. And those sick employees should be healthy and back to work in about a week. She urged employers not to over-react.

    Johnson: While many of you have pandemic flu plans that talk about closing events and not having meetings etc. They aren’t immediately needed for low level circulation with a low level severity index.

    Work places should prepare for staff needing to take off extra days to care for sick children, and employers should educate their employees about good hygiene. Diane Gallagher is the executive director of HMS School for children with cerebral palsy. She says she’s interested in administering flu vaccine to her staff this fall, and encouraging students and their families to consider it as well.

    Gallagher: And then making sure that we can do all these things within the scope of being legally responsible, ethically responsible and being medically on top of everything.

    A vaccine for the H1N1 flu should be available in a few weeks.

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