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Hospital enforces flu shot policy

Health Sciences North is requiring its employees to choose between receiving their flu shot or wearing a surgical mask while working with patients.
Health Sciences North workers are required to either receive the flu shot or wear surgical masks while working with patients. Supplied photo.
Health Sciences North is requiring its employees to choose between receiving their flu shot or wearing a surgical mask while working with patients.

If they refuse to do either, they'll be sent home, said the hospital's senior vice-president, Joe Pilon.

“As far as I know, we haven't had anybody who hasn't complied with our policy,” he said.

The policy is a best practice recommended by a Ministry of Health expert panel called the Provincial Infectious Diseases Advisory Committee.

Health Sciences North actually implemented the policy in November, but only started enforcing it a few weeks ago with the influenza outbreak in the city. It will be in place until April 1, as influenza usually hits hardest during the winter months.

“We'd given people time to be immunized,” Pilon said. “We said 'OK, now we're going to have to enforce it.' So we sent people a letter.

“We said 'If you haven't demonstrated or you're not going to disclose to us that you're immunized, then you're going to have to start wearing a mask when you deal with patients.'”

Staff are required to wear stickers on their hospital identification indicating their immunization status, he said.

“That's what discloses to us that you're immunized,” Pilon said.

“If I'm another nurse, and I see you caring for a patient and you're not wearing a surgical mask, and you haven't been immunized, you're putting that patient at risk.”

He said about 50 per cent of the hospital's staff have received their flu shots at this point. Flu shot clinics are being offered by the hospital every week.
Pilon said there has been a few complaints about the policy from staff, “but nothing of any consequence.”

For the most part, staff has been co-operative, as they understand the policy protects patients, as well as themselves.

He said the hospital isn't coercing its staff into receiving a flu shot, as they have the option of wearing a surgical mask instead.

“Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, we have an obligation to protect our staff as well,” Pilon said.

“By having them wear a mask, that protects them from getting it. Those are just personal protective equipment. It's no infringement on their rights. It's actually an obligation as a professional to protect themselves.”

As for the impact the influenza has had on the hospital, Pilon said it's actually not been that bad.

“We had one crazy spike in the emerg a few weekends ago,” he said.

“But other than that, it's been pretty stable, pretty steady. We were able to handle it. Even now, we're not experiencing any unusual sick time with our staff, or any unusual outbreaks. It hasn't had any significant impact.”

The influenza has delayed the closure of the hospital's functional assessment and outcome (FAO) unit at the former Memorial Hospital, however.

The unit was supposed to close Jan. 27, but this has been delayed until the end of the month because influenza outbreaks at local long-term care homes has made it difficult to find placements for FAO patients.

All patients remaining at the FAO unit by the end of January will be transferred to the hospital's Ramsey Lake Health Centre site.

Heidi Ulrichsen

About the Author: Heidi Ulrichsen

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