Minding Your Business

GMC’s H1N1 seminar aims to get local companies ready for what could be a rough ride this flu season.

Stone Energy's Flo Ziegler, who will attend the H1N1 seminar, says her company already has a flu-prevention program in place.

Photo by Ooti Billeaud

The fall flu season is right around the corner, and just about everyone is fearing the effects of the biggest and baddest flu virus of them all, H1N1. Due to the sudden pandemic in April, we all now know more of what to look for and are better informed about what to do to reduce our risks of contracting as well as spreading the virus, also commonly called the swine flu. As schools and families strive to take every possible measure to keep themselves safe, businesses are also having to explore their options for how to prevent their employees from getting sick — all the while preparing for a worst-case scenario should most employees be out sick at one time.
To help educate businesses on what they can do to protect themselves and their staff, Lafayette General Medical Center is holding a free H1N1 education event for human resources directors and business owners at the Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise Sept. 15 from 7:30-9 a.m. In conjunction with the Lafayette Economic Development Authority and LITE, this seminar will give out new information regarding swine flu and will discuss proactive plans for businesses to handle any situation involving the H1N1 virus. “We have to prepare for the pandemic on businesses,” says Joan Stokes, infection control practitioner of LGMC and the main speaker for the education event. “We saw what happened in the spring, and it is expected to be worse this fall.”
Flo Ziegler, vice president of human resources and administration for Stone Energy Corp., wants to be prepared so that Stone’s business is not hindered by this problem. “We are interested in attending the upcoming seminar because we believe that with any crisis, planning is key,” she says. “We do the same preparedness for things like hurricanes and oil spills, so it makes sense for us to do the same preparedness for a pandemic flu.”
The seminar will offer constructive take-home materials in a “Communication Toolkit” from the Centers for Disease Control. The kit includes a CD with signs and posters, e-mail templates, text message copy, and Web resources, all to help employers prepare a pandemic plan and make it easier for them to share information with their employees. “Becoming educated on the subject and being able to share facts with the employees is critical to maintain calmness in your workforce,” says Ziegler. “Knowing what to do and taking preventive steps will put your employees at ease, thus avoiding distractions.”
In addition to the toolkit, attendees will get a step-by-step checklist that Stokes will review with them at the event. “It is important that they understand the clinical terms used in the checklist so they aren’t as intimidated. Also, having this information in front of you as someone is speaking is very helpful,” Stokes says. “It gives the opportunity for questions to be answered on the spot.” Dr. Tina Stefanski, Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals Region 4 medical director, will also be on hand to answer any questions and help clarify confusing information. Stefanski and Stokes recently presented together at a flu summit in New Orleans.
Businesses in the health care arena have to take the most comprehensive steps to protect themselves and their employees, but they are certainly not the only high-risk group. Oil rigs and similar places where employees are bunked together for long periods of time pose a significant threat. But all types of businesses are at risk, Stokes stresses, and should prepare as such. “I’ve even been seeing law firms increasing their hand sanitizer locations and putting more tissues around the office,” she says. 
Ziegler is not waiting until after the seminar to start a prevention program. “We have already taken some preventive measures, such as hand sanitizers on everyone’s desk and in common areas, e-mails to our employees on some simple preventive measures such as washing hands frequently, telling them to avoid using their coworker’s phone or keyboard and covering sneezes and coughs. We also offer flu shots, and have for years, to our employees. We have a provider come to our office to administer so it will be convenient for all employees, and we have these already scheduled for Sept. 15. All of these are key to staying healthy. Communication is key. Get a plan and communicate it.”
Stokes knows that many businesses already have plans in order, but insists that even these need to be reassessed. “If you already have a plan, revise and review it,” she urges. “Make sure all contact lists and information are updated.”
To register for the Lafayette General Medical Center H1N1 education event at LITE, visit or call 289-8600.