Last year’s flu season was one of the worst in nearly a decade. The people most susceptible to the flu are our most vulnerable people: infants and children, older adults, and people who are chronically ill or have suppressed immune systems.
As alarming reports about how virulent last year’s virus was, Era Living, a top-rated group of local senior living communities, turned to their trusted partners at UWSOP for solutions. Through a program of training and education, UWSOP’s initiatives meant that Era Living avoided an outbreak and stayed open for most of the flu crisis.
Era Living communities are active and have many life-long learners as residents, including retired UW faculty. UWSOP and Era Living have a partnership designed to support residents’ health and create learning opportunities for our student pharmacists, under the mentorship of our faculty. Students and faculty regularly give well-attended talks on different subjects to empower the staff and residents in their own care. Topics include what to do to prevent contagious illnesses like pneumonia, whooping cough, and more.
The team pivoted and focused in on giving talks about the important adult vaccinations including for the flu: covering the importance of the vaccination, the difference it makes when more people who can get the flu shot get it, and, that even if you get the flu, it’s milder if you’ve had the flu shot.
The talks improved the vaccination rates as the SOP team reminded staff that flu shots and other vaccinations are a covered benefit, helped them understand the health benefits not just to themselves, but to their communities, and engaged the community in a little peer pressure (for the sake of good health) by reminding other residents and their families to get their shots and how it benefits everyone, particularly those who are sick, very young or old, or immune-compromised.
Taking care of older adults calls for some cautious steps to be taken from time to time. For example, it’s not unusual in the height of flu season for independent and assisted living communities to close to outside visitors, to protect the health of residents who may be vulnerable to these illnesses.
During last year’s flu season, which was one of the worst in a long time, Era Living facilities had to close very rarely to visitors—which surprised our faculty and students. When they did some research into why the communities were healthier, they found it went back to a series of talks given by the faculty and students on the importance of vaccinations. Era Living staff are invited to the talks as well, which led to a significant improvement during the last flu season. It turned out staff were in those presentations and it led to an increase in all staff getting flu shots, who regularly come in close contact with residents. Other protocols that were taught also helped the community stay strong, such as having residents stay in their apartment if they are sick.
The audience is wider than just the people in the room—it extends to their families, too. By staying up to date on their flu shots and other vaccinations residents protect their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren when they visit.
The work of UW health providers and Era Living residents and staff shows that when people collaborate and actively learn how to improve their health, great results emerge.