January 16, 2013
(The New York Times News Service) -- Companies that provide on-site flu shots typically do so during the fall. By Thanksgiving, employees are no longer rolling up their sleeves in the corporate conference room.
Not this flu season. During the past week, TotalWellness, which provides vaccinations, screenings and other health services for companies nationwide, has received a flood of calls asking if there's time to squeeze in a round.
Lisa Stovall, a spokeswoman for the Omaha, Neb.-based company, said this year's flu outbreak has led some schools around the country to close and has many employers looking at empty desks.
TotalWellness, with more than 3,000 nurses around the U.S., including Houston, has been dispatching them to companies in need.
Employers looking for last-minute shots also are motivated by the potentially high health care costs they face from employees who get sick from the flu, Stovall said, noting that the benefits of a healthy workforce can more than make up for the cost of at-the-office vaccines.
Each year, the flu costs businesses about $10.4 billion in hospitalization and outpatient medical visits, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.
By comparison, TotalWellness charges $20 to $25 for each flu shot administered on-site, Stovall said.
A study of 849 workers by the Veterans Affairs Center of Minneapolis found that employees who received flu vaccines reported fewer respiratory illnesses, fewer sick days and fewer physician visits.
The net savings was $47 per employee, according to the 1995 study, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The savings were almost twice the average cost of the shots at that time.
The Society for Human Resource Management pointed to the still-cited study as evidence of the importance of company-sponsored vaccines.
TotalWellness has an online return-on-investment calculator that helps managers make the financial case that corporately subsidized flu shots will save money in the long run, said Stovall, who estimates that 10 to 20 percent of employees are absent at work at some point during a typical flu season.
Many large companies already know the value of on-site flu shots.
In The Woodlands, Anadarko Petroleum Corp. has an extensive, and popular, corporate wellness program that includes an on-site physician and clinic.
Flu shots are still available this month, Anadarko spokesman John Christiansen said.
In fact, Dr. Joe Basinger even rolls his cart by for desk calls to encourage employees who might have neglected to get vaccinated earlier.
Company-funded flu shots are not as common at smaller companies. But as reports mount about this bad flu season, many are rethinking that.
"They're figuring, 'Better late than never,' " said Carol Wood, human resources director at the Achilles Group, which provides human resource services for client companies.
Several smaller client companies have called asking for the vaccine. The Achilles Group is working with employee benefit brokers to find vendors that can provide the injections, she said.
At a small workplace, she said, even a few sick employees can be a sizable percentage of the total.
"You can't really cover when 10 or 20 percent of the employees are gone," she said. "That's a pretty big hit."
It's far more effective to give flu shots than to deal with the time away from the office, she said.
And in one case, Wood said she suspects the CEO decided to subsidize the flu shots so he wouldn't catch the virus from a sick employee.
Copyright 2012 The New York Times News Service. All rights reserved.