Fall Means FLU (shots)

It’s Time to Schedule Vaccine Clinics and Educate Employees

 Imagine Hit me with your best shot, the unofficial theme of every employer flu shot clinic, playing on a loop while every employee receives a flu vaccine. It’s heartening to see so many coworkers opting for the latest flu protection; every jabbed arm represents one less worker potentially sidelined by fever, nausea, headache and more.

Influenza (flu) is getting second billing on the vaccine front because of sickness star COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous. Here’s why the workplace should embrace the availability of the latest flu vaccine and how you can either schedule a successful flu shot clinic at your place of business or promote receiving the vaccine off-site.

Influenza is serious.

These days, it seems as if you can’t turn on the news without learning about the latest COVID-19 vaccine. The novel coronavirus and its Delta variant may hog the spotlight, but a nasty viral veteran awaits to emerge in the Fall with fury. Influenza (commonly called flu) is exceedingly worse than a typical cold. It can demand weeks of recovery. In some cases, it can cause death.

But don’t worry – there’s a shot for that. And though it’s not 100% effective, opting for the flu shot in 2021 could be an especially good idea. After all, the COVID-19 pandemic is not over. Hospitals still need to dedicate resources to treating those who suffer from severe cases. An onslaught of flu victims could result in an overwhelming influx of patients and not enough medical professionals or equipment to adequately help them.

But what’s the big deal? How much absenteeism does the flu really cause?

What this question really hides is dollar signs. Related to the queries Will the cost of an employer-led flu clinic be worth it and How much productivity can I lose to the flu, that number varies. However, flu is highly contagious and can spread through an office like wildfire. Imagine just a few employees sidelined perhaps for weeks, and the effect usually becomes apparent. A flu vaccine is likely much less expensive to offer to employees. Plus, a clinic is often included in your health plan. It’s a win-win for employers.

It’s impossible to do anything but estimate the cost of absenteeism related to the flu, but according to flu.gov, it’s estimated that 111 million days of work are lost each year due to the virus. That amounts to approximately $7 billion in productivity loss. These are staggering numbers, to be sure – and they can be lowered through vaccination.

But what if the vaccine isn’t formulated to address the latest strain of flu?

For those workplaces returning to some semblance of water cooler chatter after so many months of remote work, the comments about flu vaccines run the gamut from believer to passionate objector. I get the shot every year, and I’ve never gotten sick is a popular refrain. So too is I’ve never gotten that shot, and I’ve never had the flu either.

The truth is that no flu shot is going to be 100% effective. The vaccine is formulated based on the best data scientists gather about the three or four strain most likely to win “Most prevalent of the year,” and it’s never simple to guess. Even a strong hypothesis can miss the mark. Still, when the strain of prevalent flu matches the vaccine, the shot is extremely potent.

That means the coworker strutting around saying I’ll never get that flu shot might be living on borrowed time. This could be the year he catches the flu, misses weeks of work, and decides that opting for a flu shot would have been a supremely good idea.

Are there side effects from the vaccine?

Here’s side effect number one: You’re likely protected from contracting a nasty virus. Other side effects that can occur with the flu shot (according to the CDC) include low grade headache, fever, nausea, muscle aches, fatigue, and soreness at the point of injection. Severe reactions are extremely rare.

 Who can benefit from the flu shot?

Nearly everyone aged six months and older can benefit from the flu shot. Pregnant women are often recommended to receive it because it does double-duty; the vaccine actually offers their unborn baby limited immunity upon birth. Vaccinated children have a much lower chance than other children of dying from influenza. The elderly are at higher risk for serious flu complications; therefore, the flu shot is a sound idea for them as well.

Is there a special flu shot for people over the age of 65?

There is. It’s called the trivalent flu vaccine, and it’s extra-strong in terms of creating an immune response. However, older adults in this age category can also opt for the normal flu shot. Learn more about the high-dose one here.

Is there an option other than the shot?

For the needle-averse, there’s good news: There is a nasal flu vaccine that, according to WebMD, can work just as well as the syringe method. However, those under the age of 2, over the age of 50, and pregnant women are not advised to vaccinate in this manner. It may not be available as part of your on-site flu shot clinic, either. Be sure to ask before you tell employees that it will be.

What does the CDC say about the flu vaccine?

Get it. That’s the main message from the CDC, which looks at the risk versus reward of contracting the flu compared with receiving the shot. Rare exceptions occur, but on the whole, most of the population can benefit from the vaccine.

Tell me about this year’s vaccine.

The CDC continually updates its information about this year’s vaccine to make it the most accurate possible. Any licensed vaccine provider is fine, they say, including approved vaccines not made with any eggs (good news for people with allergies). Note that the CDC does declare that getting vaccinated too early is a no-no; therefore, don’t opt for the vaccine in July or August. September and October are prime time vaccination months, but even stragglers can see benefits all the way through January.

In 2020, only about half the U.S. population opted for the flu shot. Therefore, manufacturers did not manufacture enough vaccine for every single American. Demand is expected to soar in 2021 thanks to COVID, so opting for your flu shot in that September-October time span is a sound idea.

It is possible to be infected with COVID-19 and the flu at the same time.

You read that correctly. And though at this moment it is believed that COVID-19 may be ultimately deadlier than the flu, having both simultaneously is both dangerous and likely exceedingly uncomfortable.

You’ve convinced me. How do I set up an effective flu shot clinic?

Do you work with a wellness coordinator? If so, call that person and ask how much guidance they can offer. Some will schedule the entire event; others will give you resources to do so yourself. A few elements are crucial for a successful workplace vaccination program:

  • Select the vaccine administrator. Will an outside provider pay a visit to your office, set up in the break room and start vaccinating? A community immunizer is an option as well. Find one of those here.
  • How will employees pay for the flu shot? Communicate in a clear, concise manner if employees are responsible for some or all of the cost. Note: If you can fund the flu shot clinic in-house, that may encourage more employees to vaccinate.
  • Schedule the clinic for an opportune time – preferably before late October. Fall is prime time for flu season.
  • Still mostly remote? Discover where your employees can receive the shot off-site and offer an incentive for those who select it. Effective rewards include time off of work to obtain the shot, department contests, etc.
  • Gain buy-in from multiple departments and C-suite members.
  • Advertise, advertise, advertise. The CDC has some informative flyers here.
  • Make sure employees know whether their dependents are also eligible for free or reduced-cost flu shots.

Dangers from COVID-19 and the flu are real and often preventable. Making sure your employees are educated regarding the facts of both vaccines and the viruses will help them make informed decisions. You don’t have to do this alone, either: for questions regarding health and vaccine clinic events, contact W3 wellness coordinator Trish Blocker at 727-522-7777 or tblocker@w3ins.com.

Here’s to a flu season where more people than ever before choose vaccination. The double-dose of COVID and flu viruses make it more important than ever.

Have Computer, Need Therapy?

Mental Health Awareness Via Screen: Sharing the Teletherapy Lowdown with Employees

The doctor will see you now has taken on new meaning during this pandemic, as social distancing necessitated a pivot from classical in-person sessions to online screen appointments. The therapist’s couch is now the living room loveseat, or the kitchen chair, or the breakfast nook — any place, really, that promises solid Internet access.

Teletherapy, also known as online therapy or e-therapy, is a secure, often-effective way to utilize therapy services. The client makes an appointment with a therapist, logs on at a precise moment, and voila! Professional help is there. In a world that often offers instant gratification in the form of computerization, therapy this accessible can be extremely effective.

Here’s the downlow on the virtual therapy office: It’s a way for people to seek help anytime, anywhere. Need last-second appointments? Real-time advice dealing with stressors? Just a sympathetic listener? Teletherapy provides all of the above. For those who may have been reticent about reaching out for mental health services, the computer screen offers a welcome buffer. Instead of gearing up for a potentially emotional experience throughout the continuum of scheduling, transportation to the appointment, and sitting in a foreign room with a stranger, teletherapy brings treatment to the patient on his or her terms.

It’s this stark difference to in-person therapy – along with other, notable advantages – that indicates teletherapy is here to stay. It was here before the pandemic, of course, but the uptick in virtual services currently being offered shows no sign of slowdown. It’s time to get on the teletherapy wagon, so to speak. Read onward to learn more about the virtual therapy session and how to share this safe, efficient and cost-effective solution with your workforce.

  • Many medical carriers offer the option through telehealth providers – Check with your carrier. Have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)? There’s a solid chance therapy appointments are part of that. Remember: Your employees aren’t going to utilize services they know nothing about. It’s up to you to publicize what is available to them. The EAP may even extend to dependents.
  • If teletherapy is not covered under either your standard employee medical plan, consider sharing other resources with employees. Meditation, for example, has been shown to reduce stress levels, and while it isn’t a direct substitute for therapy, it has proved beneficial for centuries. Apps like Headspace that offer guided meditation are inexpensive or free.
  • Virtual therapy is safe and private – In fact, whether a therapist meets with a client at the office or via Zoom or another online portal, they are bound by the same laws of confidentiality. For a person to glean the most benefit from therapy, it’s important that the client offer full disclosure to the therapist. He or she is not going to turn around and tell the employer about the discussion. This is not a ‘Big Brother’ situation; it’s simply a way to nurture behavioral and mental health.
  • Bringing others into the therapy room is a seamless endeavor with teletherapy. A marked advantage of video conferencing software is its ability to bring people together with just a few clicks. For families that require group therapy, sessions via a screen connect grandpa in Idaho, say, with the rest of the grandkids in Tampa, et cetera.

Just as with everything in life, teletherapy won’t work for everyone, but it’s definitely worth educating employees about what is included as part of their work benefits. This safe, private and cost-efficient option offers potential peace of mind and help – all just a click away.

For more information about telehealth, visit here or contact W3 Insurance Wellness Coordinator Trish Blocker at 727-522-7777.

Florida Home Insurance Premium Hikes: TAKE ACTION

Rate increases are causing anxiety among Florida homeowners. Many can share tales of recent rate hikes that hint at a dim future:

If Florida home insurance costs continue to spike, who will be able to afford Sunshine State home ownership?

Understand why rate increases are occuring and take action to protect your Florida home insurance premium.

Here’s the down-low:

  • Within the state, losses have proved extensive and the effects of storms are ongoing. Thanks to hurricane losses from Wilma and Katrina, the total amount of insurers in the state underwriting property policies has dwindled. Many insurers who have remained find themselves still handling claims from Hurricane Irma.

While storm severity and frequency have caused insurance rate increases, so has insurance fraud. Fortunately, there are actions Floridians like you can take to curb this practice:

  • Educate yourself about insurance fraud.
  • Don’t become an Assignment of Benefits (AOB) victim (Download the Consumer Protection Coalition’s guide and learn how to avoid AOB fraud and abuse).
  • Protect your pocketbook from shady contractors.
  • Suspect fraud? Notify your home insurance company immediately and report the concern to the Florida Division of Insurance Fraud online or by calling 1-800-378-0445.

Here’s what you can do to be part of the change:

The Florida legislature is considering proposals that address the abuses driving costs ever-upward. Contact Governor Ron DeSantis, House Speaker Chris Sprowls and Senate President Wilton Simpson and express support for property insurance litigation and fraud reforms. Make your voice heard and tell the Florida Legislature to bring insurance claim fraud and abuse under control.  Share your own story and how these rate increases impact your ability to maintain property insurance in the Sunshine State.

For more information regarding Florida property insurance rate hikes, why this is happening and what you can do, read this Reuters article. After you do, pick up the phone and call:

Governor Ron DeSantis at 850-717-9337
Speaker of the House Chris Sprowls at 850-717-5000
Senate President Wilton Simpson at 850-487-5229

Together, we can present a united front to fight against fraud and undue property rate increases.

Engine Cut-Off Switch Requirement a Go

Own a vessel less than 26 feet in length? Prepare to be safer out on the water.

A decision that will no doubt have far-reaching boating safety implications has finally been announced: An engine cut-off switch (ECOS) and accompanied ECOS link (ECOSL) is now a must for recreational boaters. The U.S. Coast Guard shared the new mandate, which involves vessels less than 26 feet in length and becomes effective April 1, 2021. The National Defense Authorization Act of 2021 spells out the mandate, which is found in Section 8316.

Any captain can tell you that the ECOSL has the potential to save lives. Attaching the vessel operator to a switch allows the engine to immediately shut off in the event that the vessel is displaced. Instead of engines churning an out of control vessel into danger, the captain with an ECOSL has the ability to right the craft and potentially prevent disaster. It’s a preventive measure; many have argued for years that it’s a vital one.

Here’s how it works: A cord fixed to an ECOS close to the helm or even affixed to the motor itself senses tension. If that tension occurs, the ECOSL released itself from the ECOS. This means the motor ceases to run, and this happens automatically. This is a vast improvement upon the other way a driver of a boat would respond to an out of control situation. And it’s so easy to operate; all it takes in most situations is for the driver of a vessel to don a lanyard that triggers an engine shutoff when overstretched.

Imagine the implications of this safety protocol: You’re driving a vessel and navigating through beautiful blue water – until something happens and the boat spirals out of control. In that quick moment, it is possible that the captain will be able to shut off the engines. It’s also possible that the panic may cause that person to freeze, or that the sudden turbulence or rogue wave has swept him/her off the helm. Such situations arise often out on the water, where conditions can morph from predictably calm to turbulent in a moment.

Now, engine shutoff in such a situation is a foregone conclusion. The ECOS and accompanying ECOS link ensure it. And that captain, who may have otherwise been scrambling to reach the steering counsel, no longer needs to worry. The craft will immediately halt its forward motion, thanks to the engine cutoff device that is now mandatory. It’s no over-exaggeration to say that it’s a potential lifesaver.

Boats included in the mandate

So who absolutely has to have (and use) that engine shutoff switch? Answer ‘yes’ to the below specifications, and you are required to not only have one on board, but to use it.

  • The vessel measures less than 26 feet long and is capable of greater than 115lbs static thrust.
  • The vessel was built January 2020 or later.
  • Yours is a recreational vessel. Only such vessels fall under the mandate. Therefore, vessels for other use are not required to feature the engine cut-off switch

Boats not included in the mandate

Your vessel is not required to have the ECOS if:

  • The primary helm is housed in an internal cabin.
  • The vessel was constructed prior to January 2020.
  • The vessel is earmarked for law enforcement. These vessels, and other vessels owned by the government, are not required to have the switch.

Should I use a shut-off switch even if I’m not required to?

  • It stands to reason that vessels manufactured before 2020 need a shutoff switch as well. The alternative is just too disastrous to ponder. Should you fall into the water while driving, the boat could maneuver its way toward you, creating a real hazard – or it could simply keep motoring away into the sunset, sans passengers.
  • Therefore, YES – you should use a shut-off switch (or some sort of engine kill mechanism) even if the law does not require you to. That kill switch has a double meaning, to be sure: by killing the engine, it maintains your own safety (and those of your passengers).

What other options are available?

  • Like so many advancements, the shut-off switch has also gone wire-free. Using a wireless engine cut-off device frees the driver from having to deal with a lanyard-type scenario, but it does offer some limitations. If the driver is somehow tossed from the helm, for example, it will not offer protection. Also, passengers must carry their own connected fobs if they wish to extend the protection to themselves.

Is anything else required in tandem with the shut-off switch?

  • Maintenance of the switch is required for the boat’s lifetime. And though it must be in good working order, it is not necessary to employ it during docking or idling. After all, the scenario it is designed to prevent involves an out of control vessel that could potentially pose a danger to passengers or others who are out on the water. Keep in mind also that though the cut-off switch can quickly resolve what could have been a dangerous situation, it is also extremely simple to reengage the switch and resume normal boating operations.

What else can I do to foster a safe boating environment aboard my vessel?

  • Take full responsibility for the safety of your passengers by adhering to Coast Guard safety recommendations. That means a life vest for everyone on board, never driving a boat while inebriated, completing boating safety courses and having your vessel inspected annually by the U.S. Coast Guard, United States Power Squadron or vessel examiners who work through your state’s boating agency.
  • Oh, and embrace the shut-off switch requirement and adhere to it religiously. This requirement has been a long time coming. Accidents caused by wayward, out of control recreational vessels will hopefully soon be a distant memory.

Find information about why ECOS and ECOSL are now safety measures that are required for many waterway vessels here. Whether you use an ECOS and ECOSL or not, be safe out there on the water. And before you ever leave the dock, contact your marine insurance advisor at W3 Insurance to make sure you’re covered.

Be Well, St. Pete!

Defining and Achieving Wellness: Tips from a Wellness Coordinator

I like to say that wellness is the ‘fourth W’ at W3 Insurance. As the wellness coordinator for the St. Petersburg-based company, I spend my days helping clients achieve healthy workplace outcomes. That includes my own employer, which was recently named a Healthier Together Gold Partner, and it means something different to each employee group. Throughout my years crafting programs to nudge people toward healthier lives, I’ve gathered an advice tidbit or two (or four, of course). Whether you are part of a workplace that could use a revamped wellness focus or you’re simply an individual who wants to be healthier, read onward.

Here’s how to be well, St. Pete – from a veteran wellness coordinator’s perspective.

  • Repeat after me: Wellness is not synonymous merely with weight loss or fitness.
    Too often, people see ‘wellness program’ and immediately think their employer is going to sanction a Biggest Loser competition or yank the break room pastries in favor for apple baskets. Both are solid ideas, but do they address a business’s unique challenges? Do they address yours?W3 Insurance client populations vary too much for such a general definition of wellness to apply. A manufacturing plant, for example, may see musculoskeletal issues among employees and need a strategy to address them. Office employees tend to have higher rates of depression and anxiety; they benefit from coping strategies. A workplace that struggles with smoking cessation needs exposure to quitting tools.
  • Focused efforts are always more helpful than general initiatives.
    Wellness consultants are by nature strategists. When I work with one of our benefits clients, for example, I look at claims data and listen closely to the HR department’s assessment of needs. How can we help people with high blood pressure and other risk factors?  Perhaps we survey the employee population, anonymously: What do you need help with? What would you like to see as part of the company wellness program? Instead of being a generalist, I try to be specific and ask how I can assist this particular group with its wellness roadblocks – and then, I make a plan with the employer.Individuals striving for wellness should be similarly specific. What are you hoping to achieve? How will you get there? Make a plan – and follow it.
  • Help is widespread.
    Once it’s clear where the wellness focus needs to be, it’s time to find resources. Luckily, they’re widespread. If you’re an individual seeking wellness assistance, take a good look at your insurance program. It may include more help than you ever believed possible. Often, the insurance carrier has plenty of informative materials. Many carriers offer free programs for weight loss, diabetes prevention, stress management, health coaching and mindfulness. Carriers may even offer incentives to employees who embark upon exercise plans, for example, or points to redeem for merchandise as part of activity program participation.
  • Regularly take stock of what’s working – and what isn’t.
    Once I help an employer develop a plan to address the wellness concerns of their employee population, I help to promote that plan through multiple media sources. We decide on budget for the program and include any incentives. Quarterly, we review the data together and adjust as necessary to keep moving toward our goals.This review strategy works for the person looking to achieve wellness on their own as well. If you feel as if what you are doing is not moving you forward toward desired wellness outcomes, take stock of how you’re going about the journey. It may be time to pivot.

I’ll leave you with this truism: Wellness is not one-size-fits-all. Every employer population, and each individual person, has their own journey to travel in order to achieve it. Good luck to you as you embark upon your wellness quest!

Trish Blocker recently celebrated eight years at W3 Insurance. She has been in the employee wellness space for eleven years and loves her job of helping clients help their employees. She enjoys spending time with her family, whether that means boating, golfing or attending her son’s lacrosse games. On weekdays she starts her day off with an early morning bootcamp class, She also meditates, if even for five minutes, during her lunch break.