Oklahoma City hospitals require flu shots for employees

Hospitals throughout the Oklahoma City metro-area are requiring employees get a flu shot, or wear a mask when interacting with patients.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Published: January 14, 2013
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Rachel Webb didn't anticipate that when she stepped on the elevator Thursday, she would hear a stranger thank her.

I appreciate you wearing a mask if you can't get the flu shot, the stranger told her.

“I come into work, I wear my mask, and take it off to eat my food, but when I'm out and about in the hospital and on the floors, I'm wearing my mask because I want to protect myself, and I want to protect everybody around me,” Webb said.

Webb is one of thousands of hospital workers in Oklahoma City who are required to either get a flu shot or wear a mask while at work.

Both the American Hospital Association and the Oklahoma Hospital Association have endorsed mandatory flu shot policies.

In July 2011, the Oklahoma Hospital Association board encouraged “hospitals to implement a mandatory patient safety policy that addresses influenza vaccination for hospital employees.”

It's also an issue that's making headlines nationwide as employees either resign or get fired for going against the policy.

News media in Missouri, Ohio and Indiana have reported hospital staff members resigning or being fired for not getting their flu shots.

Sue Schrock, a longtime nurse at an Indiana hospital, told a local newspaper that she resigned because of religious beliefs. Seven employees are no longer employed at Indiana University Health Goshen Hospital because they would not comply for the flu policy, according to the newspaper.

“I didn't want the flu shot,” Schrock told The Goshen News. “I was denied the religious exemption, and they said it was more for personal preference rather than a religious reason. They didn't accept my religious explanation. They didn't accept it because it was biblical based. I don't want it in my body, and I don't think God wants us to do that, and that's my firm stand. It's just not who I am.”

Public health risk

Hospital officials say health care workers are at a high risk of contracting the flu, a contagious respiratory illness that can lead to mild to severe illness, and in some cases, death.

Since Oklahoma's flu season started in September, eight residents have died because of the flu and another 345 flu-related hospitalizations have been reported, according to the most recent state Health Department data.

Webb, a clinical informatics analyst at Mercy, isn't against Mercy's flu shot policy.

Rather, she suffers from Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare autoimmune disorder that occurs when the body's immune system mistakenly attacks part of the nervous system.

Webb asked her doctor three times if she could get the flu shot, but because of the disorder, her doctor recommended she not get the flu shot.

“You have to really decide — do you want to get the illness or Guillain-Barre syndrome again?” Webb said. “And for me, I can't make that choice."

This flu season is the first time Mercy's flu shot policy has been mandatory.

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by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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