50 Essentia Health workers fired for refusing flu vaccine
- Essentia Health terminated 50 employees for refusing to get the flu vaccination, reports the Star Tribune. Hundreds of other workers agreed to be vaccinated after the Duluth, Minnesota-based healthcare system threatened to fire them if they refused.
- The new policy requires all employees to get vaccinated to protect patients, Dr. Rajesh Prabhu, Essentia’s chief patient safety officer and an infectious disease specialist, told the Tribune. He said severely ill patients are more susceptible to complications and death from the flu, which is why the need to vaccinate employees is greater.
- The Tribune says three unions oppose the new policy, which covers 15 hospitals in the system and 75 clinics. The United Steelworkers, which represents some employees, failed to get a court injunction to block the terminations.
The American Hospital Association (AHA), along with the National Business Group on Health and the American Academy of Family Physicians, strongly supports vaccinations to prevent the spread of the flu. The AHA backs mandatory patient safety policies that require workers to get flu vaccinations or wear hygienic masks when coming in contact with patients during the flu season.
Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) show that less than 45.6% of Americans got flu shots during the 2015 to 2016 flu season. According to the CDC, some people don't think the flu vaccination is effective, while others don't think they'll come down with the flu or think the side effects will be worse than the disease. Other workers might be eligible for a medical or religious exemption.
Employees routinely come to work ill, spreading infections to coworkers. Some 80% of employees came to work sick last year based on findings from Staple Business Advantage's cold and flu survey. The cost of the flu alone is $10.4 billion in medical expenses and, for employees, $16.3 billion in lost earnings each year.
Healthcare statistics would seem to support the argument for mandatory flu vaccinations. However, legal considerations come into play. States like New York allow employers to have blanket mandatory flu vaccination policies, but the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is against mandatory policies. Employers will need to pay attention to local and state law before making any such policies of their own.