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Central Ohio Business Organizations Brace For Tough Flu Season

Businesses in Central Ohio say they're preparing for what could be an especially large influenza outbreak this year.

No one knows how bad the flu season will be in the coming months. And no one knows the impact that seasonal flu or swine flu will have on the operation of large business organizations. But local planners are all saying just about the same thing:

"We just need to be prepared "

"The most important thing is to be prepared to "

"If we take the right precautions and be smart, we'll get through the flu season."

The last voice is Mike Duffy's. Duffy is Vice President of Operations for Cardinal Health, a pharmaceutical distributor and medical supply company. Duffy says the Dublin-based company is used to dealing with large-scale disruptions

"Fortunately or unfortunately we deal with crisis situations all throughout the year," Duffy says. "As you can imagine we have facilities all over the United States and around the world. So specifically to the United States, everything from the hurricanes to the fires, from ice storms, to the wind storm about a year ago, so we have pretty robust continuity business plans in place already to deal with crises. So from an H1N1 perspective obviously the plans we have in place would be able to meet the needs of a crisis situation that would present itself from H1N1."

The company now has made contingency plans in case a large number of employees become sick with flu. Duffy says Cardinal's IT department has beefed up extra capacity. This will allow employees who are isolated at home to keep working. Duffy also says that Cardinal Health is reeducating its employees on the basics of flu prevention

"...everything from, for example, the flu shot to daily cleanliness tips. So really reeducating people from a 101 education perspective if you will of the do's and don't's as you come to work.

The same sort of education is going on at Ohio State University where some 30,000 employees work. Planning for a particularly bad flu season began last April when there was a swine flu outbreak in Mexico. Bob Armstrong is director of Emergency Management at Ohio State.

"It's important that every business unit - college, school, department, division, whatever you would like to call them, whether it's on OSU's campus or you're off campus, it's important that you have your own business continuity plan and one of those contingencies needs to include if you have a loss of staff," Armstrong says. "If you have 12 employees and 6 of them happen to be sick at the same time how can you continue to do business each day? Who will pick up the slack and how will you be able to continue to operate? And planning ahead makes it so much easier."

Armstrong says the university created a business continuity group that's working with each business unit on campus. It takes about 9 months, he says, to create a full-fledged continuity plan. Though each department is different, Armstrong says, every plan has been crafted around the same basic information. As for individuals, Armstrong gives this advice.

"Be prepared. That's the key for this. Do not panic. Don't be overly concerned or worried if you hear a lot of people are ill. It will be a bad flu season. Whether it's the seasonal flu or the H1N1, it all affects us the same - the fever, the coughs, the chills, the sneezing. You just need to make sure you take care of yourself. You stay healthy and do what you can to remain healthy," Armstrong says.

Education and prevention are the keys to making it through the next flu season. That was reiterated at a recent Ohio State University press conference. This is Doctor Roger Miller a physician of preventive medicine at OSU.

"Our biggest emphasis is on prevention of disease through education and through vaccination," Miller says.

Business owners will have to walk a fine line in the coming months to keep their operations as uninterrupted as much as possible. This is Columbus attorney Steven Loewengart whose practice deals with employment-related issues.

"Try to keep the flu out of your workplace as much as you possibly can," Loewengart says. "Now that's certainly a delicate balancing act of trying to enforce a flu free workplace and sending people home but those are complementary concepts that just are not easy logistically. So employers are going to have to be flexible with their policies but they're going to have to enforce them evenhandedly."

Loewengart also advises proper planning.

"With all events that cause fear, one needs to proceed moderately, not get too terribly excited too quickly and certainly have plans in place," Loewengart says. "This is certainly a time to make sure that the company through its human resources and various other departments is prepared for what could be a very drastic business interruption. So I think first of all a plan for how you're going to keep things running is absolutely critical."