Affinity Living Group will mandate influenza vaccinations for its more than 4,000 employees beginning with the 2019-2020 flu season, the organization announced Tuesday.

ALG, based in Hickory, NC, will provide free flu immunizations as well as other types of vaccines, including pneumococcal and shingles, to employees at its more than 120 communities in six states. The organization said it is the first long-term care provider in North Carolina to provide mandatory employee vaccinations on this scale.

“At ALG, we are not only responsible for providing care to the seniors who live in our communities, but also for caring for the individuals that work at each of those communities and at our headquarters,” said Mary Raddant, vice president of human resources. “We want each of those employees to remain safe and healthy year-round, and ensuring that each employee receives the flu shot at no charge is one extra step toward that goal.”

Raddant told McKnight’s Senior Living that employees will be granted exemptions from the policy on a case-by-case basis.

The immunizations will be administered by CVS pharmacists, who will hold flu clinics at communities before the flu season begins. Employees will be able to redeem vouchers during the clinics and at CVS Pharmacy locations.

Residents also will be able to receive their flu shots during the ALG clinics, and citizens from the surrounding area will be able to participate, with proof of insurance. ALG also plans to educate staff members and the greater community about the importance of flu vaccines, with CVS pharmacists attending ALG community events.

“More than 30,000 people a year die from influenza, and it’s more significant in the older age group,” Kevin O’Neil, M.D., chief medical officer for ALG. “It’s important for us as people who work in this field to understand the moral responsibility that we have to be vaccinated.”

Experts convened by the Gerontological Society of America’s National Adult Vaccination Program recommend that assisted living organizations and other long-term care employers mandate flu vaccination for staff members and make vaccination a condition of employment for workers.

According to statistics released in the fall by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 78.4% of all healthcare workers were vaccinated during the 2017-2018 flu season, but the vaccination rate was the lowest among those working in long-term care, including assisted living, at 67.4%. Vaccination among healthcare workers is highest when their employers require or promote it, according to the government.

In addition to protecting the health of workers and residents, flu vaccines may help protect the financial health of senior living operators.

When Capital Senior Living launched a public health initative during the 2017-2018 flu season in its 129 senior living communities — including staff training, preventive measures and infection control protocols — it was able to limit the number of flu infections to 2.7% of residents, with less than 0.5% of residents hospitalized. Almost 95% of communities that had flu cases saw only one resident become ill, the company said.

Moreover, a recent poll by the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation found that a vaccinated staff could provide a competitive advantage. Poll participants felt so strongly about flu vaccination that 70% said that if they found out that one-third of an assisted living community or nursing home’s staff members were not vaccinated, then they would be less likely to choose the community for themselves or their loved ones.