With the influenza season and the COVID-19 pandemic now converging, America’s hospitals and health systems are ready. They are accelerating efforts to inform and engage people in their communities about preventive measures, including wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, frequently washing hands, and getting the flu vaccine.
First responders face unique challenges during the COVID-19 crisis. Working in enclosed spaces during transport puts them at significant risk, and needing to make quick decisions can trigger anxiety, stress, and fatigue. More COVID-19 cases plus the onset of flu cases could potentially increase the number of emergency medical calls and hospitalizations and possibly lead to another shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE).
Strategic national medical supply management programs and flu prevention campaigns will play a critical role in providing health care and emergency response workers the means to deliver quality care and stay safe. The American Hospital Association (AHA), which represents nearly 5,000 hospitals, health systems, and other health care organizations, is working with a number of partners to lead several efforts to address these issues.
Preventing Another PPE Shortage
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, many U.S. hospitals and health systems experienced critical shortages of PPE. In response, the AHA expanded the 100 Million Mask Challenge nationwide, first launched by Providence, based in Washington state. Working with several partners, including Microsoft and UPS, the AHA built out this initiative to equip the front lines by helping businesses, manufacturers, individuals, and hospitals, come together to produce PPE rapidly. We also developed HealthEquip, an app that matches those wanting to donate PPE with hospitals that need it most, and helped hospitals vet nontraditional suppliers offering PPE.
The 100 Million Mask Challenge has successfully connected numerous hospitals with needed PPE through the HealthEquip app. Through a generous donation from the National Bobblehead Museum, the AHA will be able to turn $300,000 in donated funds into PPE for hospitals that need it most. We even facilitated the donation of 200 cases (554 gallons) of hand sanitizer between Sazerac Company and hospitals in Kentucky and Indiana. And more than half a million individuals, businesses, hospitals, and manufacturers have visited the AHA website to get the latest information on PPE and find out how they can help provide PPE to our health care workforce.
United Against the Flu — and a Possible “Twindemic”
AHA’s United Against the Flu campaign is a collaborative effort among several national health care organizations. It’s designed to amplify the importance of getting vaccinated, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Many health experts are concerned about a potential “twindemic” if COVID-19 cases increase as the flu season takes hold.
Hospitals and health systems are already spreading the word in their communities, sharing helpful information on their websites and social media accounts that urges people of all ages to get a flu shot, wear a mask and practice good hand hygiene. A few examples:
- In northeast and central Wisconsin, ThedaCare is using its social media channels to encourage people to get a flu shot — to protect themselves and everyone around them. The health system’s Twitter posts link to info from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and to a video with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services’ “Flu Guy” talking about this flu season.
- In California, Marshall Medical Center features a video, “11 Things You Didn’t Know that You Need to Know About Washing Your Hands,” on its YouTube channel, to encourage good hand hygiene practices during flu season. One statistic from the video: Children who have been educated on proper handwashing reached developmental milestones six months earlier than those who did not.
- Like many hospitals and health systems, Mercy Clinic in Oklahoma has created a flu vaccine webpage to post pertinent information, including a video of a Mercy physician discussing common misconceptions about getting a flu shot.
Wear a Mask Campaign
The AHA’s Wear a Mask campaign aligns with the flu campaign. The AHA joined the American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association to issue an open letter in July urging the public to wear a mask to stop the COVID-19 spread. The AHA.org/WearAMask webpage offers a digital toolkit, social graphics, sample public service announcements, and other resources on everything from proper mask-wearing to care practices, all to help keep individuals and communities safe.
Leaders from the AHA, AMA, and ANA are featured in a 30-second YouTube video with a straightforward “Wear a Mask” message. The AHA continues to encourage people to social distance, wash hands at least 20 seconds, and, most importantly, wear a face covering when outside their homes.
Collaborating to Spread the Message
There’s no doubt this is one of America’s most crucial flu prevention seasons in history. “Seasonal influenza occurs each year, but its severity is unpredictable,” said Robyn Begley, CEO of the American Organization for Nursing Leadership and CNO of the AHA. “Vaccination offers the best protection. But this year, it’s important that people also follow CDC guidelines for preventing the spread of COVID-19 to keep themselves and their families safe.”
By collaborating and supporting each other, hospitals, community groups, public health departments, and first responders can enhance communication about COVID-19 and flu prevention and expand the reach of life-saving messaging in their communities. Through 2021, AHA will offer a variety of resources to support flu prevention, including educational materials, the latest information on policies and best practices, and general guidance.
Together is better. AHA is proud to support all front-line workers in this fight against the flu while still fighting COVID-19 — and help build a healthier future for all people.
Priya Bathija is vice president, strategic initiatives, at the American Hospital Association.