More than one-fourth of Wisconsin hospitals require employees to get flu shots, saying that the mandate will help protect workers and patients from the respiratory illness.
Among those is UW Hospital in Madison. “It makes sense to do whatever we can to implement the one measure we know will reduce hospital-acquired influenza, said Dr. Nasia Safdar, infection control head at the hospital.
The union representing UW Health’s nurses and therapists wants the facility to consider an exemption for personal beliefs in addition to the policy’s exemptions for medical and religious reasons.
“We support flu shots, but we don’t think they should be mandatory,” said SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin treasurer Ann Louise Tetreault.
La Crosse and Winona hospitals agree with that philosophy, following policies that strongly suggest but do not require employees to get vaccines.
At the Mayo Clinic Health System-La Crosse, employees must either get a vaccine or sign a statement declaring why they don’t want to, said Chief Administration Officer Joseph Kruse.
Most of those who decline either express concern about the vaccine or say they became sick after a vaccination, he said.
The policy, in its second year, was instituted because of evidence from the Centers for Disease Control that the vaccine is important, Kruse said.
“We felt we needed to step it up,” he said, although Mayo is not pressing for 100 percent because it is not convinced that level is necessary.
Last year, 87 percent of the employees got flu shots, and more than 90 percent have done so this year, Kruse said.
Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center has a similar policy, encouraging employees to be vaccinated but having them sign a form if they decline, said Dr. William Scorby, medical director for employee health at the hospital.
Almost 75 percent of Gundersen’s employees have been vaccinated, Scorby said.
Also using the option of encouraging but not mandating, is Winona Health, said Karen Sibenaller, its senior media marketing coordinator. Three-fourths of Winona Health’s employees have gotten shots, she said.
Statewide in Wisconsin, 26 percent of hospitals and 12 percent of nursing homes had mandates, according to the state Department of Health Services.
Another 69 percent of hospitals and 75 percent of nursing homes made workers sign waivers if they didn’t get vaccinated.
John Sauer, president of Leading Age Wisconsin, which represents nonprofit nursing homes, said he expects most nursing homes eventually will have mandates.
“An outbreak of flu can really put residents at risk,” Sauer said.
The Wisconsin State Journal contributed to this report.