Byline: Jennifer Harper, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Skimpy supplies of flu vaccine and public panic are not the only concerns among officials charged with managing a potential pandemic. Some vital caregivers could be no-shows.
Sixteen percent of public health workers - about one in six - said they would not report to work during a pandemic flu emergency regardless of its severity, according to a survey released Friday by researchers at the Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore.
Employee response is a critical component of preparedness planning, yet it is often overlooked, said lead author Dr. Daniel Barnett, an assistant professor of environmental health science at the campus.
By 'public health workers,' we are referring to any and all workers in a local public health department. These would include types of local public health department employees ranging from clinical workers - doctors, nurses - to administrators, to clerical and support staff.
Other recent research revealed even more reluctance. A survey of close to 200,000 union health workers conducted by the AFL-CIO in April found that 42 percent said they would most likely stay home should a pandemic strike; one-third would go to work, and 24 percent were unsure what they would do.
Hospitals and other health facilities are far from ready to provide protection for workers, the survey said.
Dr. Barnett said intensely personal perceptions could keep uneasy workers at home.
His findings are based on the responses of 1,835 public health workers in three states, gauging their willingness to go to work during a large scale threat, plus their thoughts on the nature of the emergency - and their own role as first responders.
Dr. Barnett found some pronounced, emotionally driven motivations. A sense of public calling still matters.
Workers who felt citizens were in danger, had confidence in their own abilities and felt they could have a meaningful impact on the threat were 31 times more likely to respond to work in an emergency than those who felt the threat was low or that their own role had no impact.
Even workers who did not think the threat was critical but still strongly believed in their value were 18 times more likely to say they would respond compared with those in the low threat/low efficacy group.
We found belief in the importance of one's work was strongly associated with a willingness to report to work in an emergency, said co-author Dr. Ran Balicer, an epidemiologist at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel.
The researchers said that emergency preparedness training for public health workers should clarify what's expected of them and emphasize why their response is vital during an all hands on deck scenario such as pandemic flu.