Who will be there to care for the patients?

Three Hospital Beds in a rowA research plan to provide an estimate of absenteeism in specific areas of the health-care workforce during an influenza pandemic.  Originally published on March 27, 2008.


OSHA has stated “a pandemic could affect as many as 40 percent of the workforce during periods of peak influenza illness.”[i]  This one fact runs through and is reiterated in the many volumes of information recently created to help various segments of a community prepare and respond to an influenza pandemic[ii].  This figure of is used as a planning assumption and justification to build capacity in all critical infrastructure areas.[iii]  Other research around the SARS epidemic has pushed the number even higher[iv].  This author believes that this figure is used carelessly with the implication that the 40 percent absenteeism rate applies equally to all fields of health care workers at all education and socioeconomic levels.

This paper identifies the need for additional research regarding how the health care workforce will react and respond to an influenza pandemic, and then outlines a plan to conduct the research.  In this context, the health care workforce will be divided into three major groupings:

  • Emergency medical services and first-responder health care providers,
  • Medically trained specialists operating in a hospital environment, and
  • Non-medically trained workers that support the hospital environment, such as maintenance and janitorial crews.

Research in the health care workforce is specifically needed to predict behavioral intent of the workers.  The research objectives are as follows:

  • Identify the current knowledge about an influenza pandemic,
  • Identify the workers’ perception of risk during an influenza pandemic,
  • Estimate the workers’ likelihood of working during an influenza pandemic, and
  • Identify correlations in workers knowledge and risk perception with the likelihood of continuing work during an influenza pandemic.

From this information, the researchers can pull together a more accurate estimate of the health-care workforce’s behavior during an influenza pandemic.  This will allow health-care administrations to more accurately predict and plan for their needs which allows for more specific plans as to what services will be provided and in what form.

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