The health care provider set a Monday deadline for employees to get flu shots or receive an exemption for medical or religious reasons.
Chief of patient quality and safety, Dr. Rajesh Prabhu said Essentia’s mandatory approach came down to two things, a desire to increase patient safety and an understanding that Essentia’s 82 percent flu vaccination rate from 2016 wasn’t going to change voluntarily.
“Purely voluntary or more education doesn’t get you those high levels of immunization compliance and as you know other states, other health care organizations have done the same thing we have,” he said.
Since September, Essentia has told employees, volunteers, students and vendors they have three options: get the flu shot, get an approved religious or medical exemption, or leave Essentia.
As of Tuesday, Dr. Prabhu said 99.5 percent of employees have chosen the first two options, but fifty so far have been terminated with more left waiting to hear back on their exemptions.
Minnesota Nurses Association Duluth chair Steve Strand said with so many employees in that limbo, his union doesn’t know how many members may have lost their jobs just yet.
“We believe that they will be denying some of those, and then those individuals may end up terminated also,” he said.
But Strand said the MNA does intend to fight any terminations for a policy they say is unnecessarily intrusive and may not even be effective. He said if Essentia had negotiated with his nurses before implementing the policy they would have suggested a mulch-tiered approach that included a voluntary policy and stricter hygiene practices. He cited CDC research showing this year’s vaccine is expected to be 60 percent effective against the flu.