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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

Becky Payton, Mercy regional vice president of human resources, said Mercy employees must either get their flu shot or wear a mask during flu season. Mercy will also withhold an employee's next merit increase if the employee doesn't get a flu shot for any reason other than medical or religious, she said.

About 94 percent of Mercy's employees have gotten their flu shots, Payton said.

“The reason is because we want to make sure that, for public health reasons and for the safety of our patients and our co-workers, we want to do everything we can to not spread the flu,” Payton said.

Payton said Mercy's policy does not include the possibility of being fired for not getting a flu shot.

Firing penalty

But there are hospitals in the Oklahoma City metro area that have moved in that direction.

St. Anthony Hospital's policy is that staff members must either have an annual flu shot or a waiver explaining a medical or religious reason they can't have the shot.

Hospital spokeswoman Sandra Payne said few employees have not complied with either getting vaccinated or turning in a waiver, and of those employees who were terminated, most were not full-time employees.

At Integris, employees, employed physicians and volunteers who do not get a flu shot by the first Friday in December each year are removed from work duties and placed on unpaid leave. Employees who do not get their flu shot by the fourth Friday in December each year are fired, according to the company's policy.

The Oklahoma-based hospital system added the consequence of being fired to its mandatory flu shot policy after the H1N1 pandemic in 2009.

Dr. James White, Integris Health chief medical officer, said after Integris changed its policy, the health system saw an increase of employees getting their shots, with 96 percent of employees vaccinated this past year, he said.

Integris has tried in years past to increase flu vaccination rates among its 9,000 employees but wasn't successful in those efforts until it added the risk of being fired to the policy, he said.

“Despite those best efforts, we had vaccination rates in most of our facilities that never got up much more than 70 or 75 percent, and that was even when it was mandatory to comply with the policy, but it was not worded quite as rigidly,” White said.

White said a few employees at Integris have either left or been fired because of the policy.

White was one of the primary advocates of updating the flu policy to include the possibility that an employee would be terminated.

“We don't want our employees caring for our patients in their rooms the day before they may come down with flu and give our patients influenza, nor do we want them giving fellow employees influenza, nor do we want them giving visitors influenza,” White said. “So we feel like after substantial deliberation that this is the right thing to do for the right reason.”

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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