State Mandate Threatens Health Care Worker’s Jobs

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Posted Thu, Feb 6, 2014

Photo by Mia Szabo

A bottle making lots of changes– photo by Mia Szabo

DENVER– In early 2012, a mandate was passed by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment requiring all medical employees to be vaccinated for influenza. The intent of this mandate is to bring up influenza vaccination rates among medical employees as close to 100-percent as possible.

CDPHE says, “The rule [mandated influenza vaccination] applies to ALL healthcare entities that are licensed by Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). The rule does NOT apply to healthcare entities that are NOT licensed by CDPHE such as outpatient physician clinics, doctor’s offices, dental offices, and chiropractor’s offices.”

It should be known, however, that many outpatient physicians and doctor’s offices are on staff, or associated with one of these licensed facilities and not actually exempt.

Colorado is now one of 15 states that require influenza vaccination of medical staff. Thus far, any legal challenges to these mandates have favored upholding the mandate. Aside from the states that mandate vaccination, there are also institutions that have similar requirements such as Johns Hopkins. They even have a frequently asked questions page about mandatory flu vaccinations where Johns Hopkins states that they choose to require flu vaccinations because, “The research clearly shows that flu vaccinations vastly increase mass immunity and protect immune-suppressed patients.”

The Consequences of Refusal

Refusal to comply with the mandate means unpaid leave for the employee during the entirety of the flu season, or even dismissal. Properly filed exemptions for medical or religious reasons must be filed at the beginning of each flu season. Those who choose to file for a medical exemption are only approved if they have a severe allergic reaction; minor reactions to the influenza vaccination are not considered a valid reason for exemption. Those exempted must follow institution rules like wearing a surgical mask during all patient encounters during the flu season.

Many medical employees, doctors and nurses do not know if the new mandate is just another piece in the Affordable Care Act. The ACA did not affect the flu vaccination rules. Currently, federal laws give states the individual right to regulate mandatory vaccinations.

HealthOne’s Director of Media Relations and Community Affairs Stephanie Sullivan explains, “They [ACA rules and regulations] have not changed for HealthOne. Our staff vaccination rules remain the same.” Many healthcare institutions have been following the same guidelines put forth in the mandate prior to 2012, but without the non-compliance consequences. The vaccination rate of hospital personal, for example; before the mandate had been running 45 to 64 percent. The mandate was made in hopes of raising that rate to well over 90 percent compliance.

The Bottom Line

Some in health care are alarmed that they don’t have the option to opt-out of this mandate outside the very strict exemption rules. They could lose their pay for an extended period of time and be blocked from their usual practice for the duration of the flu season, which can last for up to six months (October to March), or even be dismissed in certain cases. Many wonder if such a mandate should be allowed to stand as it is currently enforced.

 

Helpful Links:

Tool Kit for Influenza Immunization for Healthcare Workers in Colorado

Colorado board approves flu-shot mandate for health care workers (Denver Post)

Get flu shots in Denver

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Mia Szabo

About Mia Szabo

Mia Szabo is a Denver-Area Freelance Writer

View all posts by Mia Szabo

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