Providence Alaska Medical Center on Thursday rescinded its policy that every employee receive a flu shot as a condition of employment.
The flu shot requirement "was the right decision for the safety of our patients and community," said hospital administrator Bruce Lamoureux in a press release. "We do acknowledge, however, the strong feelings that the requirement and its swift implementation elicited in some employees."
The move brings to a close a controversial month for the state's largest hospital, which employs 3,100 people. Some employees supported the preventative measure while others balked, calling it a violation of their rights.
"We got to a point where we felt like there was enough concern that we needed to change course," said hospital spokeswoman Becky Hultberg.
Nearly 75 percent of the hospital's employees have already received the vaccine, partly because of the rule implemented in November. That's the highest percentage of employees to ever get a flu shot, Hultberg said. Historically, it's not quite half that, which is the national average for health care workers.
The rule had only applied to the nonprofit Anchorage hospital, not its regional hospitals.
"It's a basic right. It's about people having the choice if they want anything foreign put in their body," said Debbie Thompson, executive director of the nurse's union, the Alaska Nurses Association. The union filed a grievance with the hospital over the requirement and applauded the hospital's Thursday decision.
Hultberg said the hospital is still encouraging staff members to get the shot.
Infectious disease experts said the idea made good health sense in order to protect patients, already ill, from being infected with potentially deadly influenza while hospitalized. But some local nurses had questioned its effectiveness.
Nationally, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that health care workers get the annual shot.
Two other Anchorage hospitals, Alaska Regional Hospital and the Alaska Native Medical Center, do not require their employees to get the shots but recommend it.
In 2004, Seattle's Virginia Mason Medical Center required all its employees to get the flu shot and the nurses union protested and won their case in court.
Thompson said she looked forward to working with Providence in the future on promoting common methods of preventing the flu from spreading, such as covering the mouth when sneezing or coughing, staying home from work when sick and washing hands often.
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