Minnesota Nurses Association Considering Action Against Essentia Health for Firing Nurses Over Flu Shots

Health care workers are not required by state law to get the flu vaccine, but hospital officials say it all comes down to patient safety. KMSP Fox 9's Maury Glover has more from Duluth

DULUTH, Minn. — The Minnesota Nurses Association says they are filing grievances after nurses with Essentia Health were fired after they did not get their flu shot by the hospital’s deadline.

Health care workers are not required by state law to get the flu vaccine, but hospital officials say it all comes down to patient safety.

“Minnesota Nurses Association is not against getting the flu shot. What we are against is making it mandatory,” said Mary Turner, who is president of the Minnesota Nurses Association.

Essentia Health required more than 15,000 of its employees across four states to get flu shots, or face losing their jobs. A spokesperson told Fox 9 that it’s all about patient safety. Those who objected for religious or medical reasons have to have either a member of the clergy or a doctor sign off.

Turner says the policy is misguided.

“So now are they going to say, ‘Oh, you got the flu shot and so you shouldn’t be sick?'” Turner said. “If you are sick, will you be put under discipline? See? It’s just a slippery slope.”

She says ensuring health workers can take adequate time off when they’re sick, hospitals providing enough protective equipment and mandating constant hand washing are concrete steps that health systems can take to stop the spread of the flu.
“See, it’s a multi-facet thing,” Turner said. “To just automatically say that ‘Ooh, the flu shot is going to do it, that’s inaccurate. We don’t agree with that.”

Kris Ehresmann with the Minnesota Department of Health says there’s no state law requiring health care employees to get flu vaccines.

“At this point, the studies and the research that would come out of health care worker vaccination haven’t been robust enough for us to take that step,” Ehresmann said.

But, she says, it is strongly recommended. The state has incentive programs to help companies encourage their workers to get the shots.

“I think this is really a question of patient safety and it’s really about protecting the patient,” Ehresmann said. “That’s why we do feel that health care worker vaccination is so important.”

Essentia Health has confirmed at least 69 employees have been let go for not complying with the health system’s deadline. They say there are several other employees who are still waiting to hear if their applications to be exempt from getting the vaccine will be accepted.

Essentia Health, which is based in Duluth, has 15 hospitals and 75 clinics in Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Idaho.


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