Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center said Wednesday it is implementing a flu vaccination policy at the hospital to help protect the health of its patients, visitors, staff and community.

The policy — affecting more than 7,000 people — includes physicians, allied health staff, volunteers, students, contract workers and other health care providers,

Employees who do not wish to receive the flu vaccine must wear a surgical mask within the hospital to protect patients, OLOL said.

“Getting the flu vaccine is the first and most important step to protect against the flu and avoid spreading it to others,” said Dr. Catherine O’Neal, medical director of infection control at Our Lady of the Lake. “For every 15 vaccinated health care workers, one person in the community is prevented from contracting the flu.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all health care workers get vaccinated every year against the flu. However, voluntary programs have not been effective at markedly increasing vaccination rates, which have remained at 63 percent nationwide.

At Our Lady of the Lake last year, voluntary vaccinations achieved roughly 40 percent. With the implementation of its universal flu prevention policy, Our Lady of the Lake joins a growing number of top health care facilities across the country in the effort to increase flu vaccination among health care workers.