Fighting the Flu: Businesses Immunize, Educate to Keep Employees on the Job

Karen Therrien and Richard Bolster. T&G Staff/Christine Hochkeppel

Richard Bolster and Karen Therrien. T&G Staff/Christine Hochkeppel

It’s coming: that nasty, achy, sniffly, feverish flu season that runs October to May, but typically peaks January to March.

It’s not just individuals who dread the prospect of being laid low for several days, or much worse. Tens of thousands in the U.S. die from the flu and its complications each year.

But with nearly 11 million workdays costing $7 billion lost annually due to the flu, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, businesses grapple with finding ways to make sure the work gets done, in sicknesses and in health.

Karen Therrien, a nurse at Unum’s Health Resource Center, and Richard Bolster, Unum senior operations analyst, talk about the benefits of the health-conscious company culture.

Unum, a medical disabilities insurance company with some 500 employees in Worcester, emphasizes prevention across the spectrum of health and wellness.

Karen J. Therrien, a health educator with Premise Health who works under contract managing Unum’s health resource center, said the company had four flu clinics on site this fall. So far 270 employees, more than half, have come in to be immunized.

“Here they’re at work – it’s convenient, you don’t have to take time off from work. There’s no co-pay,” she said.

Those who haven’t gotten the vaccine lately often harbor misconceptions about it. “A lot of people say, ‘I don’t want the flu shot because last time I got it, I got the flu,’ ” Ms. Therrien said. “That’s where the education piece comes in.”

Common vaccine side effects include soreness at the site of the injection, occasionally a slight fever, but not the flu, she said.

Richard S. Bolster, a senior operation analyst at Unum, said, “I get a flu shot every year, mainly because my care provider tells me it’s the thing to do.”

Mr. Bolster endorsed the on-site health resource center for much more than preventing the flu. Working with Ms. Therrien for guidance on diet and exercise as well as blood pressure, cholesterol and other screenings, he shed 97 pounds and no longer needs blood pressure medication.

“The whole wellness program here – we’re very, very aware of it,” he said. “The flu shot is just a portion of it.”

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