Steamboat Springs Yampa Valley Medical Center has implemented a new policy making flu shots mandatory for its employees.
Under the new policy, which took effect Monday, YVMC employees are required to get flu shots by the end of the year. The policy states that consequences for not getting the flu shot include termination. There are exemptions for health or religious reasons, but anyone without a vaccination must wear a surgical mask while in contact with patients, according to the policy.
For Dr. Mark McCaulley, YVMC’s medical director of infection prevention, the hospital’s stance on the issue is firm in the interest of patient safety.
“It’s appropriate and imperative,” he said about the new policy. “We don’t want to deprive people of their right to individual choice, but if you’re going to work in health care, we have those obligations.”
YVMC is not alone in its new policy.
On the heels of a February decision by the Colorado Board of Health, state-accredited health care facilities in Colorado must prove 90 percent of their employees are receiving the vaccination by the end of 2014.
The requirement goes up incrementally: Facilities must prove 60 percent compliance this year, 75 percent the next year and 90 percent every year after that.
Dr. Chris Urbina, executive director and chief medical officer for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said it’s up to individual hospitals to decide how to reach those targets. He also said there has been some opposition to the new rule.
“There were people who were in favor and people who were opposed,” he said. “I think people have a right to their concerns, but people have a right as a patient, or as a person that goes into a health care facility, to be protected from infection.”
Urbina and McCaulley said patients in a hospital often can be immunocompromised and more susceptible to contract the flu or suffer severe consequences or death from the virus. McCaulley said he couldn’t recall an instance in which a YVMC patient had gotten the flu while in the hospital but said the new policy is a proactive step.
It came with opposition at the Steamboat hospital, as well. McCaulley said he has been contacted about some concerned employees who feel as though they’re being forced to get the flu shot or lose their jobs.
One such employee contacted the Steamboat Pilot & Today with an anonymous note, a copy of the new policy and a set of FAQs provided by the hospital to its employees.
“We’ve heard from some employees who think it’s not fair or right,” McCaulley said. “We disagree. I would ask anybody who has a problem how would they feel if they or a family member was in a hospital and contracted influenza.”
McCaulley said the hospital’s new policy, while stricter than the state’s, is in line with new recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
At YVMC, this means everyone who works in the hospital — including vendors delivering product inside the building — need to have the vaccination. Visitors do not, he said.
McCaulley said some people have concerns that the flu shot will cause them to get the flu. He said possible side effects include a low fever or aches that could last a few days but said that's not the flu.
Flu season lasts from fall through the winter, and although last year’s was relatively uneventful, there’s no way to tell how big this flu season will be, he said.
To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email ninglis@SteamboatToday.com