Friday, September 4, 2009

UI Health Care makes flu shots mandatory


Flu shots are no longer optional for anyone associated with UI Health Care: It is a condition of employment.

“People who do not comply will not be eligible to continue their positions at UI Health Care,” said UI spokesman Tom Moore.

Staff members were notified about the policy change in an e-mail sent early Tuesday morning.

Collin Willhite, a UI alumnus and staff nurse in the surgical intensive-care unit at the UI Hospitals and Clinics, said he didn’t mind the new policy.

He has been getting the vaccine for the past few years anyway, he said, and it was critical for him to be healthy when working with patients.

“The common flu could kill some of the patients we work with,” Willhite said. “I feel it’s my personal responsibility to get one.”

UI Health Care includes the UIHC, the Carver College of Medicine, and UI Physicians. According to the new rules, flu shots are mandatory for those who work, learn, or volunteer at any of the three entities. That includes vendors and contractors in the hospital.

Those in need of the flu shot can get one from the free immunization program UI Health Care will begin offering in September or from another source outside the program, the e-mail said.

Those who opt out must provide proper documentation of a medical or religious exemption.

Other individuals who must get the shot include UI and other medical students studying within the system who, like vendors and volunteers, do not technically work for UI Health Care.

To keep track of the immunizations, faculty and hospital workers will swipe their ID badge when vaccinated to electronically update their records. Their supervisor will then receive a report of who has been immunized.

Vendors must report vaccinations to the hospital’s Department of Procurement Services. Likewise, contractors will report to the Facilities Services office where those records will be stored.

Student records already on file will be updated to reflect immunization. Moore said he was not sure who would check to make sure students had received vaccinations, however.

Staff receiving vaccinations outside the program will be required to provide proof of immunization to their supervisor: a signed physicians note, receipt of payment, or a copy of a medical record.

Moore also said this was not the first time those associated with UI Health Care had to comply with required medical measures. For example, administrators require staff members to take a tuberculosis test annually.

“This is nothing new for those people,” Moore said.

A task force made up of physicians, nurses, and administrators developed the policy, he said. It then received approval from Jean Robillard, the UI vice president for Medical Affairs, and the Hospital Advisory Committee.

Moore said the change in policy reflects the duties of UI Health Care.

“We have a responsibility to take every measure we can to protect the health and safety of our patients and visitors,” he said.

For Willhite, the new mandate goes beyond company policy.

“We owe it to these patients,” he said.

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