UNMH employees told they must get flu shots

Posted at: 10/03/2013 6:38 PM
By: Stuart Dyson, KOB Eyewitness News 4

Employees of the UNM Hospital system don’t have a choice about getting a flu shot this fall if they want to keep their jobs.

A new policy requiring flu shots applies to everybody from janitors to brain surgeons, and all the jobs in between. Hospital administrators say it’s all about protecting patients and visitors and employees.

“Research has shown that higher immunization rates among health care providers reduces the risk of influenza outbreaks in hospital settings, where patients may be at a greater risk of more severe disease,” said Dr. Meghan Brett, UNM Hospital Epidemiologist.

A memo to hospital employees refers to “mandatory immunization”, and warns that if they don’t get the shot by Dec. 1, they will face “disciplinary action up and including possible termination of employment.”

Employees may file for medical exemptions, but they will need documentation from a licensed health care provider. Ditto for religious exemptions.

“In some cases, UNMH will need to obtain documentation or other authority regarding your religious practice or belief,” the memo states. “We may need to discuss the nature of your religious beliefs…with your religious leader or religious scholars.”

Leaders of Local 1199 of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Workers say were never consulted about any of this.

“This has to be negotiated,” said union administrative director Bill Browne.  Nobody has the right to mandate what I put in my body. Nobody has the right to say that I can be terminated because I didn’t want to get a shot, and then I have to prove to you that I have the right not to get that shot, by your standards. Where is my say in this? That’s what employees are asking.”

Patients and visitors we talked with Thursday afternoon outside the hospital said they were surprised to learn of the new policy – and not convinced that it’s necessary.

“No, I don’t think so,” said Shalaine Francis. “I heard that the flu shot, you’re just putting stuff in your body so you won’t get sick. I don’t think they should be required.”

“I think it would be good, but not everybody does good with it, so it depends,” said Stephanie Figueroa. “It should be up to the individual.”

Every year thousands of Americans die from the flu, and hundreds of thousands are hospitalized. Flu season starts in the fall – right about now.

More and more hospitals around the country are requiring the flu shots, and some employees in other states have lost their jobs. Here in Albuquerque the local union is considering legal action to block the new policy.