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Flu shot policy irks hospital workers

The president of CUPE Local 1623 said his members have flooded him with complaints regarding a new Health Sciences North policy regarding the flu shot.
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The Sudbury District Health Unit has released the first round of clinic dates for the H1N1 flu shot clinics. Photo by Lance McCord (www.flickr.com/photos/mccord).

The president of CUPE Local 1623 said his members have flooded him with complaints regarding a new Health Sciences North policy regarding the flu shot.

All employees who work in patient areas are required to choose between receiving their flu shot or wearing a surgical mask. If they refuse to do either, they'll be sent home.

The policy has been in effect since November, but was only enforced starting a few weeks ago, when the influenza began affecting the city.

Dave Shelefontiuk said many of his members, who include ward clerks, housekeeping workers, patient porters and registered practical nurses, don't want to receive the flu shot, but feel like they're being forced to do so by their employer.

I can't grieve it, because there's no violation of my language.

Dave Shelefontiuk,
president of CUPE Local 1623

“The thing with the flu shot is, a lot of people said they got sick from the flu shot previously,” he said. “A lot of people don't believe in putting that stuff in their bodies.”

While Shelefontiuk said he personally receives the flu shot every year to protect vulnerable family members, he said whether or not other people do so should be up to them.

He said his members don't like the idea of wearing a mask, either.

“Some people find it uncomfortable,” Shelefontiuk said. “Personally I don't find it that big of a deal, but I don't have to wear it eight hours a day.”

When he found out about the policy change, Shelefontiuk met with hospital officials to find out if it violates any contract language.

CUPE Local 1623 does have language in its contract which states that during an influenza outbreak, workers must either receive the flu shot, be transferred to another area without an outbreak, or be sent home.

However, the contract language doesn't apply in this case because the hospital hasn't declared an influenza outbreak, Shelefontiuk said. “I can't grieve it, because there's no violation of my language,” he said.

Shelefontiuk said there's also several other aspects of the new policy he's not crazy about, including the fact that it's in place until April 1.

He wonders if hospital workers who haven't had the flu shot will be forced to wear masks until that time, even if there's almost no influenza cases left in the city.

As well, he said the policy is unfair and almost pointless, as it doesn't apply to hospital visitors.

“The visitors can come in and out, (so the influenza is) going to move from one site to the next anyway,” Shelefontiuk said. “I think (the policy) should be included for everybody.”


Heidi Ulrichsen

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