This is Part 1 of a two-part article on nurses who have lost their jobs after refusing to take an employer-mandated influenza vaccination.
A nurse in St. Louis, Missouri employed by Mercy Hospital South was allegedly fired on November 26, 2018, for defying the hospital mandate that all employees receive flu vaccination shots. The fate of the unnamed nurse was reported on Facebook by a co-worker, Nelia Aubuchon.
Protesters have criticized the hospital’s action as an employee rights violation. The nurse who was unofficially reported fired had received a religious exemption from the mandatory annual flu shot while employed by St. Anthony’s Medical Center, which was subsequently acquired by Mercy South Hospital.
According to Aubuchon, “That’s the problem here: they declined the religious exemption.”
Out of 44,000 Mercy South Hospital staff members, 170 requested an exemption from the imposed injection, which many critics (including healthcare workers) consider does more harm than good.
Most of those requests were granted, but employees denied a pass were notified the week the unidentified nurse was allegedly terminated from her gainful employment – right before Christmas.
Healthcare workers have been fighting legal battles against their employers’ mandatory flu shots for quite a few years. As far back as 2010, the Idaho chapter of Vaccination Liberation – whose motto is “Free Your Mind… The Vaccine Paradigm” – published a list of “Suggestions to Combat Employer Vaccine Mandates.” Included is information about medical and religious exemptions, union opposition, and other legal tactics.
In 2014, a New Jersey nurse named <> </a> sued the Hackettstown Regional Medical Center (then Hackettstown Community Hospital) after she was terminated and denied unemployment benefits in 2010.
The hospital’s parent company made employees complete a signed form with supporting documentation to file for a medical or religious exemption. Employees who bucked the system had to wear a mask during work hours.
If you’ve ever worn a particle mask for any length of time, you know they make breathing much more difficult. They also trap moisture and heat. Being forced to wear a mask for an entire work shift amounts to punishment.
Valent had refused to take the flu shot but agreed to wear a mask. She gave no medical or religious reason for her decision. Not only did her employer fire her for not cooperating, they disqualified her for unemployment benefits “by a Department of Labor board of review after several hearings and appeals from both sides.”
The labor board ruled that the hospital successfully demonstrated, legally, that Valent had “engaged in work-related misconduct by refusing the flu shot.”
However, appellate judges disagreed and sided with the plaintiff who argued that the hospital had violated her right to freedom of expression by pushing their religious agenda while denying her secular choice. The official decision was based on freedom of speech:
“By denying appellant’s application to receive unemployment benefits based only on her unwillingness to submit to the employer’s religion-based policy, the Board violated appellant’s rights under the First Amendment.”
Aline Holmes, the senior vice president of clinical affairs for the New Jersey Hospital Association (a nonprofit trade association) pointed out that the opposing legal conclusions reached by the labor board and appellate judiciary could create confusion about why more and more hospitals are forcing their staff to submit to a yearly flu shot:
“With this decision, we worry that hospitals and other health care providers are receiving conflicting messages from regulators and the judicial system when, in fact, our bottom-line goal is simply to protect patients during flu season.”
In fact, the root of this mixed message is something that has nothing to do with public safety. It has to do with compliance rates and financial incentives from the federal government to private hospitals.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released a report that, for the past five flu seasons, influenza vaccination coverage among health care personnel was consistently around 78%.
Not surprisingly, the vaccination rate was a very high 94.8% when employers required vaccinations, and very low (47.6%) in workplaces where getting a flu shot was optional.
The CDC wants to boost the vaccination rate among hospital employees without looking like the bad guy forcing employers to fire their human resources for noncompliance. Their official website says that a trio of government organizations – CDC, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), and the Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee (HICPAC) only “recommend” that “all U.S. health care workers get vaccinated annually against influenza:”
“CDC does not issue any requirements or mandates for state agencies, health systems, or health care workers regarding infection control practices, including influenza vaccination or the use of masks.”
But it is the CDC’s National Health Care Safety Network that creates standards to measure care provided by medical facilities. This group summarily decided that high rates of flu shots given to healthcare personnel constitutes a “quality measure” for infection control.
In Part 2 of this two-part article on nurses who have been fired for refusing to participate in their employer’s forced flu shot program, the root cause of the problem will be fully exposed – right here at TheHealthEdge.com!