Dozens suspended after employees refuse flu shots

By: November 24th, 2010 Email This Post Print This Post

Imagine this ultimatum: Get a flu shot in two weeks or lose your job. What would you do? The employee flu shot saga strikes again, but this time in Pennsylvania.

The Abington Health System in Pennsylvania has suspended over four dozen employees without pay after they refused to get the flu shot, reported The Intelligencer.  The health system includes Abington Memorial Hospital and Lansdale Hospital, who are both among the 60 U.S. healthcare systems that require all employees to get the seasonal flu shot.

This policy in Abington, PA went into effect in September, and requires all of the employees, medical students, volunteers, and vendors who provide services to the hospital to get the shot; there are over 8,000 of these workers, reported The Intelligencer.

There are reasons why employers wouldn’t want to get the flu shot. Meghan Patton, vice president for human resources of the Abington Health System, told The Intelligencer that Abington Memorial Hospital exempted less than 25 people from the shot due to medical reasons or religious reasons.

“Some people did just forget,” she added. “Some people still had some (health) concerns they hadn’t clarified. We had employees who were very fearful (of needles),” she said.

But sometimes it goes further, and lawsuits are filed. OSHA Healthcare Advisor reported on an employee at AnMed Hospital in Anderson, SC who filed a lawsuit against the hospital after she was told she’d be fired if she didn’t receive the flu shot. The employer was a cashier at the hospital. The hospital stated they were only trying to avoid the spread of infection to patients and staff.

On Monday, November 15, over 120 Abington Memorial Hospital employers had not received the vaccination yet, but as of Thursday, November 18, 56 employees were suspended, according to The Intelligencer.

Abington Memorial Hospital has been in the spotlight before on mandatory infection control policies. The hospital hired hand hygiene spies in 2008 to track the workers’ hand washing. While the first survey showed a compliance of 34%, in 2009, compliance was up to 88%, according to an OSHA Healthcare Advisor post.

With the recent uproars of employers getting flu shots, what actions could be taken to better enforce this? Or should it be enforced at all? Let us know in our comment section.

Comments

It takes guts to be a leader both as a idividually and as an organization. I applaud Abignton for having the fortitude to take a stand. You are paving the way for the rest of the country.

Shaky science combined with disrespect for the person reeks of concentration camp atmosphere. Disclosure: I am German.

As an Infection Control nurse I do understand and agree with the importance of how important getting the flu shot is. I do however have a problem with the fact of making it mandatory as this is still a free country. I see so much attention to the concern of spreading the flu but what about other respiratory illnesses? What about bronchitis, pneumonia or upper resp infections which are a concern all year long. These respiratory illnesses can also be dangerous if a compromised patient is exposed to them. I feel that strong education and monitoring of respiratory illness should be done all year, not just during flu season. Why punish a staff member who does not want the flu shot but is not coming to work ill and not have consequences for a staff member who did receive the flu shot but comes in anyway with a bronchitis and is coughing everywhere? There is a bigger picture here that we need to look at!

I for one was on the “still a free country” bandwagon until I had an idea presented to me about healthcare workers and immunizations. We require validation of previous immunizations like MMR, DTap, ect before an employee is offered a position. I see no reason that the influenza vaccine could not be included in this expectation as well. If an employee truely has a medical exclusion, it would be documented and handled accordingly. I feel that our patients as well as our staff expect to be kept safe from illness when they enter our facilities. As a responsible nurse I have always gotten my flu vaccine, not only to protect myself and my patients, but to protect my family as well. To me it only makes sense!

As an RN I have always had my flu vaccination but I do have a bit of a problem with suspending those who refuse.
At my workplace, those who refuse are required to sign a declination form and must view a video put out by our state’s Dept. of Public Health . The video becomes a less “facility-related” way of teaching why it is important to get vaccinated and dispelling the “fears” the individual might have. (I am truly tired of the “I don’t like needles” reasoning. Neither do I, but I don’t want influenza either. This issue IS addressed.)
Another concern is the lack of professional responsibility that is evident in doctors, nurses and other licensed personel who refuse. I reap many rewards as the result of being a nurse. So, I have a responsibility to my patients, clients, and/or residents to limit what illness I bring to them. That might entail having a shot.
And for those who aren’t professionals (in the techinical sense), it is our responsibility to teach and to set an example for them.
I agree these hospitals have guts, but at whose expense. We don’t have hoards of people beating a path to our door to work as nursing assistants, LPNs and RNs. We want to keep our staff, not suspend them and open a doorway away from us to another facility.
It would seem there is a better approach to this issue, in the long run.

Each time this issue comes up someone brings up that their freedoms are being trampled on. As this is America, you have rights and freedoms. The freedom to work at the occupation you want is one of these. But as this is America, the employer has rights also. The courts have ruled on numerous occasions that the private employer can set the conditions of employment.

I personnal applaud facilities that are enforcing vaccination. As a health care worker, you should have all vaccinations you can to prevent catching or spreading a disease. You are taking care of people who are already at reduced health. Why would you want to chance adding to their issues?

Funny how our society forgets how bad it was prior to all the vaccinations we have. I still remember visiting my classmate who was in an iron lung recovering from polio. I still remember my parents dragging us in to get the latest vaccine. Yes, the flu vaccine is not perfect, but the more vaccinated the less likely it is to spread.

By Turbobutterfly on November 30th, 2010 at 9:57 am

Laws require shots to protect the patients and staff. A law to protect the same people is needed concerning HIV and AIDS infected people. As it stands now, a patient does not have to diclose a positive HIV or AIDS diagnosis to staff taking care of the patient. Is that protecting the staff and then the next patient down the line? Quit worrying about a little cold or flu, those are not life threating as HIV and AIDS. Require anyone with that diagnosis to have to carry medical alert jewelery to alert others on how to treat the patient.

I completely agree with Turbobutterfly. We are required to protect the RIGHTS and PRIVACY for HIV, AIDS, and HEP patients who are not required (by law) to disclose the risk in which they place the caregiver. And they punish those of us who exercise our rights and freedom to refuse the government-created vaccine? Are you SERIOUS?!

I agree with Patricia. While some vaccines are mandatory such as TDap and MMR, we still need to continue the education portion on influenza- not suspending staff. We have other vaccines such as pneumovac that is not so widely advertised as “an important vaccine” and our elderly population is at very high risk! It should still be a choice, a declination form signed with the understanding of the risk the individual puts themselves, family, and patients by not getting vaccinated. Yes, there may come a day when this will be a mandatory vaccine, but who can afford to lose employees? Possibly if it is going to be a mandatory vaccine, it should be presented as such upon employment and a “clause” in the policy for existing employees- it’s a tough one!!!

By woman fighting on December 9th, 2010 at 2:58 pm

I work in a hospital in Washington State and was just suspended without pay for refusing the flu shot. I work in an office management position, and do not come in contact with patients or have any direct patient care. I am a healthy individual, I do not come to work when I am sick, and I feel that this policy is way too heavy-handed and does trample on an individual’s rights to choose what happens to their body. I am saddened by this. I have been a loyal employee with them for nine years and I feel this is just plain wrong.

The flu shot does not always prevent the flu, and may not even reduce the severity. Handwashing & proper hygeine is probably just as effective. I don’t understand how a person can be forced to have something done, that they do not believe in. The only time I ever took a flu shot I was sick the entire winter. I am curious, how many people take the shot & still get the flu??

 

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