TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – A major northern Michigan health care group has issued an ultimatum for employees: Get a flu shot by Dec. 31 or get fired.
Munson Healthcare, which includes its flagship Munson Medical Center in Traverse City, says individual rights must be sacrificed for the welfare of patients whose health could be threatened if exposed to flu.
Medical Center chief operating officer Kathleen McManus tells the Traverse City Record-Eagle that officials decided to make it mandatory because voluntary compliance has never topped 65 percent.
"The people we serve here are very sick," McManus said. "And I will not put a patient at risk."
But some employees are up in arms over baring an arm. About 50 turned out for a recent meeting of Michigan Opposing Mandatory Vaccines, a Detroit-area group that promotes vaccine choice. Employees also circulated petitions and hope to get the community behind them.
"I have a really hard time believing I'm going to be forced to do something against my will," said nursing administrator Dianne Lopez-Wild, who works in an office. "It's like something out of a sci-fi movie. It's bizarre to me. It seems so unreal."
Lopez-Wild said it's a "civil rights issue."
There are limited exemptions to the vaccine mandate, such as allergies or faith-based objections. But a religious exemption requires a letter from a pastor.
Munson has seven hospitals and provides services to people from 24 counties.
"I'd be willing to wear a mask rather than get a vaccination," said Roberta Mesko, a Munson nurse. "I just think we need to be able to choose to make educated decisions about what is injected into our bodies."
McManus expects some workers will quit.
"I will let them fire me," said Cathy Sanborn, a nurse with 35 years of experience. "I think, personally, I have to take a stand and draw the line somewhere. It's against my rights."
The Record-Eagle says Munson is not alone. The newspaper says hospitals in Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Petoskey, Royal Oak and Ann Arbor have similar vaccine policies.