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Spotlight falls on IU Health for flu shot firings

January 7, 2013

Indiana University Health got national attention last week for its decision to fire eight employees for refusing to get a flu vaccination.

The Indianapolis-based hospital system dismissed three nurses and five other employees from its IU Health Goshen Hospital, which sparked a raft of stories from state and national media.

ABC News posted a lengthy piece about the decision on its website Thursday. It featured IU Health nurse Ethel Hoover, who ended a nearly 22-year career at Goshen Hospital over IU Health’s new mandatory flu shot policy.

"This is my body. I have a right to refuse the flu vaccine," said Hoover, 61, who wore all black on her last day of work to mourn her dismissal. "For 21 years, I have religiously not taken the flu vaccine, and now you're telling me that I believe in it."

Fellow IU Health nurse Kacy Davis said she and her colleagues were "horrified" over Hoover's firing, calling her their "go-to" nurse.

“Your body has its natural responses to fight off certain viruses and infections, and if you continually inoculate your body with something that’s not even guaranteed from preventing you from getting it, why would you do it?” Hoover told the Elkhart Truth newspaper. Flu shots are effective about 60 percent of the time, according to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

IU Health said its mandate, instituted in September, is meant to improve patient safety. Hospital patients often already have compromised health, and so many may be more vulnerable to the flu.

"IU Health's top priority is the health and well-being of our patients," said hospital spokeswoman Whitney Ertel. "Participation in the annual Influenza Patient Safety Program is a condition of employment with IU Health for the health and safety of the patients that we serve, and is therefore required."

Of IU Health’s 26,000 employees, all but 500 complied. The hospital system says it anticipates 175 terminations in all as a result of the new policy.

Two other nurses also were fired by IU Health after they refused to take the flu shots and IU Health denied their request for exemptions based on medical needs or religious beliefs.

“I feel like in my personal faith walk, I have felt instructed not to get a flu vaccination,” former IU Health nurse Joyce Gingerich told the Elkhart Truth. “But it’s also the whole matter of the right to choose what I put in my body and what I feel God wants me to put in versus someone mandating what I put in. It is a very big issue for me.”

Former nurse Sue Schrock told the Elkhart newspaper there are other ways to stay healthy besides a flu shot, like taking natural vitamins, eating well and exercising. The last time she had a flu shot was about 30 years ago.

“I just learned more and more about natural healing,” Schrock said. “We’ve been using natural products for a good 20 years, and that’s the way we believe healing takes place.”

 

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