Flu threat has Tulsa workplaces wary
BY KYLE ARNOLD World Staff Writer
Saturday, January 19, 2013
1/19/13 at 6:55 AM
Blue Jean Baby owner Sheridan Gaton knows that running a small business is a gamble, especially when it comes to flu season.
With only two employees, she depends on a healthy, reliable staff. But Gaton said when it comes to the flu, which is reaching the "epidemic" designation nationwide, she has to play it safe.
"I have not been sick yet, but both of my [employees] have," Gaton said. "We've been wiping down counters and the register area a lot more, and we have hand sanitizer right up here at the counter."
Oklahoma has been recording moderate flu activity for the last month, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In the last week, 100 people were admitted to Oklahoma hospitals with the flu, according to the Oklahoma Department of Health, which also reported that eight people in the state have died of the illness during the current season.
While influenza has kept many students out of schools, businesses such as Blue Jean Baby - a shop on Cherry Street - have their own dilemmas. A staff member at home sick means lost productivity, inconveniences in the workplace, juggling employees to cover hours and even the possibility of shutting down for the day.
"Fortunately they were both out sick at different times," Gaton said. "One of my girls got the flu during her scheduled vacation, which worked out well for us, but she was miserable."
St. John Health System has been able to keep flu outbreaks at a minimum among its staff of more than 7,000 in Oklahoma through an aggressive campaign of vaccinations and hygiene, said Page Bachman, vice president of human resources for the Tulsa-based hospital group.
"We encourage a lot of hand-washing, and during flu season we really push cough etiquette," Bachman said.
Of course, hospitals face the seemingly impossible task of keeping employees healthy even while they treat sick people. Throughout the eight-month flu season, and especially during heavy outbreaks, St. John employees increase cleaning efforts on top of already stringent policies.
Bachman said flu rates haven't been unusually high among employees so far this winter.
During flu season the hospital distributes face masks to employees and post signs for non-patients with upper respiratory infections to refrain from entering St. John's facilities.
Still, with so many employees, the hospital group gets its share of sick workers. Management has to be careful getting them back to work without infecting others.
"We do follow the guidelines that you need to be fever-free for at least 24 hours before returning for work, and any employee that is out for three days or more needs to check in with our employee health department to make sure they are ready to come back," Bachman said.
But overall this winter, most workplaces - even office environments where people are in close contact - don't appear to be hard hit.
Casey Lamb, president of American StaffCorp, said only one of the 20 employees at the company's office has come down with the flu.
Lamb said American StaffCorp's clients, likewise, have not reported widespread flu.
"I offered to bring someone in to give flu shots, and no one seemed interested," Lamb said. "We might not even hear about it if a temporary worker called in sick at the business, but our staffing professionals haven't heard a thing yet."
Fighting flu and other germs at work, home and school
Get vaccinated: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says vaccinations are the best way to protect again the strain of the flu going around, as well as two other strains.
Avoid close contact: Don't get too near to those who are sick, and when you are sick keep your distance.
Stay home: Don't go to work, school or on errands when sick. It will help prevent spreading the virus to others.
Cover your mouth and nose: Use a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
Clean your hands.: Washing your hands will help protect you from germs.
Don't touch your eyes, nose or mouth: Experts believe flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk.
Clean and disinfect surfaces or objects: Another way to help slow the spread of influenza.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Original Print Headline: Flu-wary workplaces
Kyle Arnold 918-581-8380
A computer display reminds staff to wash their hands to avoid the flu in the emergency department of St. John Medical Center in Tulsa. JAMES GIBBARD/Tulsa World
Paramedic James Busse-Jones sanitizes his hands before treating a patient in the emergency department at St. John Medical Center in Tulsa. JAMES GIBBARD/Tulsa World