Major midstate hospital system doesn't require flu shots for employees

Written by Ben Allen, General Assignment Reporter | Oct 6, 2014 4:48 AM

(Harrisburg) -- Flu season is approaching, and three of the four major health systems in the midstate require flu vaccinations for their employees. But Penn State Hershey Medical Center only encourages workers to get vaccinated against the flu every year.

Wellspan Health, Pinnacle Health and Lancaster General Health require employees to get it, though people with religious or health considerations are exempt.

At Penn State Hershey Medical Center, where the immunization is voluntary, 88 percent of employees got the shot last yearThe federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone over 6 months of age get an annual flu vaccination.

Paula Labonte, employee health coordinator at Penn State Hershey, says employees who aren't vaccinated are required to take precautions.

"Our patients see our providers with stickers on their badges so the stickers indicate that the employee has received the flu vaccine. For those employees that have not received the flu vaccine, they're required to wear a mask when they're within six feet of a patient in a clinical area," she says.

Labonte says patients should feel confident with their safety precautions.

"The way that the flu is spread is by respiratory means, so if our staff members are wearing masks then there's really no risk to the patient."

But evidence shows a mask may not help much.

A Harvard study in 2013 found the vast majority of exhaled small particles carrying the flu virus make it through a mask.

When asked whether Penn State Hershey Medical Center is discussing a change in its flu vaccination policy, Labonte didn't have an answer.

The Joint Commission, which certifies health systems, requires hospitals to set a goal of vaccinating 90 percent of its employees against the flu by 2020. All four hospital systems surveyed say they provide the vaccines at no cost to employees.

Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, a nurses union has sued a prominent hospital over its requirement that all employees get vaccinated against the flu every year.

As a note of disclosure, Penn State Hershey Medical Center and Wellspan Health provide support for WITF's Transforming Health project.

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