Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness

Research Article

Mitigating Absenteeism in Hospital Workers During a Pandemic

Andrew L. Garrett c1, Yoon Soo Park and Irwin Redlener


Objectives: An influenza pandemic, as with any disaster involving contagion or contamination, has the potential to influence the number of health care employees who will report for duty. Our project assessed the uptake of proposed interventions to mitigate absenteeism in hospital workers during a pandemic.

Methods: Focus groups were followed by an Internet-based survey of a convenience sample frame of 17,000 hospital workers across 5 large urban facilities. Employees were asked to select their top barrier to reporting for duty and to score their willingness to work before and after a series of interventions were offered to mitigate it.

Results: Overall, 2864 responses were analyzed. Safety concerns were the most frequently cited top barrier to reporting for work, followed by issues of dependent care and transportation. Significant increases in employee willingness to work scores were observed from mitigation strategies that included preferential access to antiviral medication or personal protective equipment for the employee as well as their immediate family.

Conclusions: The knowledge base on workforce absenteeism during disasters is growing, although in general this issue is underrepresented in emergency planning efforts. Our data suggest that a mitigation strategy that includes options for preferential access to either antiviral therapy, protective equipment, or both for the employee as well as his or her immediate family will have the greatest impact. These findings likely have import for other disasters involving contamination or contagion, and in critical infrastructure sectors beyond health care. (Disaster Med Public Health Preparedness. 2009;3(Suppl 2):S141–S147)

(Received June 19 2009)

(Accepted September 09 2009)

Key Words

  • disaster;
  • workforce;
  • ability;
  • willingness;
  • absenteeism;
  • hospital;
  • personnel


c1 Address correspondence and reprint requests to Andrew L. Garrett, MD, MPH, National Center for Disaster Preparedness, Columbia University, Mailman School of Public Health, 215 W 125th St, Suite 303, New York, NY 10027(e-mail: ag2612@columbia.edu).

All of the authors are with the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.

The study was supported, in part, by grant 5U90TP224241 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.