Md. Hospital Set to Fire Staff Who Refuse Flu Shot

Md. Hospital Set to Fire Staff Who Refuse Flu Shot

News Nov 16, 2012

Nov. 16--Fourteen people could lose their jobs Monday for refusing to get flu shots.

Frederick Memorial Healthcare System decided to require flu vaccinations by Nov. 2 because the Maryland Hospital Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended it, according to Barbara Christoff, employee health manager at the company, which operates Frederick Memorial Hospital. Workers were notified of the requirement over the summer.

A two-week grace period for employees to get their free vaccinations ends today.

The company decided to have everyone comply, including people who do not have regular contact with patients, because the vaccinations protect co-workers, Christoff said. Also, office staff may sometimes come in contact with patients.

"It's protecting the patient, yourself and your family," she said.

Physicians, contractors and volunteers must also comply with the mandate, she said.

Documented exceptions to the hospital's mandate for its roughly 2,800 employees include reasons related to health or religion, Christoff said. Of the 52 exemptions, all but one or two cited health reasons.

Exempted employees must wear an isolation mask when they come within 6 feet of a patient during flu season, Christoff said.

"We were very strict with it," she said.

Of the 14 workers who had refused to comply as of Thursday, several are in emergency relief positions and work one or two days a month, she said. They have been unable to work during the two-week grace period.

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According to the CDC, recent studies suggest influenza vaccinations benefit public health, particularly when the three viruses chosen each year for the vaccine match those spreading in the community. Effectiveness, however, can range widely with factors that include age and health, as well as the similarity of the vaccine viruses and those people are contracting.

Amber Bradford, director of communications for the Maryland Hospital Association, an advocacy group for the state's hospitals, said the Maryland Health Care Commission recently studied for the first time Maryland hospitals' mandatory flu vaccination policies and compliance.

Just seven of the state's roughly 46 acute care hospitals did not have such a mandate for this year's flu season, which will end in the spring, the study found.

That's up from 14 hospitals with such a mandate during the 2010-11 flu season, Bradford said.

"We think it's basically Maryland hospitals committing to protect the health and well-being of their patients and staff," she said.

Health care employees can unintentionally expose patients to seasonal flu that can be dangerous for some patients, she said.

Meritus Medical Center near Hagerstown, with about 3,800 employees, is also requiring flu vaccinations this year.

Between 1976 and 2006, deaths from the flu each season ranged from 3,000 to 49,000 people nationwide, according to the CDC. About 90 percent of flu deaths are in people 65 or older.

Dr. Laura Herrera, chief medical officer for the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said the agency strongly recommends its roughly 8,000 employees get the vaccination. Health and religion exceptions exist in the department's policy, and workers do have the choice to refuse the vaccination, she said. Studies are under way to determine how many DHMH employees receive vaccinations.

While the CDC has been recommending vaccinations for all health care workers for years based on various studies, it has taken time to dispel myths about the vaccine, Herrera said.

"It takes a little while for people to come on board."

Copyright 2012 - The Frederick News-Post, Md.

The Frederick News-Post, Md.
Nicholas C. Stern

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