Swine Flu Could Hamstring Businesses

By: Liam Martin Email
By: Liam Martin Email

LANSING -- "On every floor, there's a large bottle of hand sanitizer available."

Matt Haran is leading me on a tour of the offices of Accident Fund Insurance Company of America. The goal: Demonstrate that the insurer isn't taking swine flu lightly.

"We're taking precautions and doing what we can. According to the [Centers for Disease Control], we're an 'actively engaged' employer," he says.

It's a status the company reached through signs on bathroom doors, or video-screen reminders to employees to wash their hands -- preparations for what the CDC and agencies here in Michigan say could be a nasty flu season, with H1N1 as the primary culprit.

And businesses could feel the brunt of it,, hamstrung by a shortage of workers.

"We were preparing for a pandemic of moderate to severe severity," says Eden Wells, a medical epidemiologist with the Michigan Department of Community Health.

Haran says the answer to that threat at Accident Fund has been a two-pronged approach: Prevent the disease from spreading with common-sense measures like keeping sick folks out, and develop a backup plan if it does, anyway.

Other area businesses like GM and Target are taking up similar measures and providing common flu shots for workers. And of course, if businesses are at risk, so, too, is the state.

"We're very worried about the impact of pandemic influenza not only on our state agencies but on our ability to provide services to our citizens," Wells says.

Michigan has confirmed more than 3,400 cases of swine flu, with 11 deaths, leading Wells and others to begin developing contingency plans.

"We have asked all the state agencies, and they have been doing so for the last couple of years, to be working on continuity of operations plans."

-- like using contractors or allowing sick employees to work from home -- part of an all-out effort to prevent another dent in a state already suffering.

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