Health company fires 69 employees over refusal to get flu shots, report says

A Minnesota-based health care company reportedly fired 69 employees who failed to comply with its flu shot mandate by the Nov. 10 deadline. In response to the firings, the Minnesota Nurses Association announced plans to file grievances against Essentia Health on behalf of the terminated employees to regain employment status or recover lost pay, Fox 9 reported.

Some of the nurses claim they filed for exemptions based on religious or medical grounds, but Essentia Health, which counts 15 hospitals and 75 clinics in Minnesota, Idaho, Wisconsin and North Dakota, had previously said it would allow for “very limited medical and religious exemptions,” among its 13,900 employees.

The nurses also claim they had proposed an alternative program that rewards employees for receiving the vaccine rather than punishing those who didn’t, as well as designated sick time for those who suffer adverse reactions from the shot.

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“Essentia Health showed nurses they did not intend to bargain with us in good faith,” Steve Strand, co-chair of the MNA bargaining unit, told Fox 9 in a statement. “We tried to sit down with management, but Essentia executives told us they intend to follow through with terminations and mandatory flu shots regardless.”

Dr. Rajesh Prabhu, an infectious disease specialist and Essentia’s chief patient safety officer, told The Star Tribune that while the vaccine is not 100 percent effective, there is a greater need to vaccinate hospital workers who interact with severely ill patients.

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“We are working in a different environment,” Prabhu told the news outlet. “We’re taking care of patients. We have a different sort of ethical obligation.”

The Minnesota Department of Health does not have a policy for health care providers regarding the flu shots, but does promote the vaccine for anyone who is at high-risk for influenza or who is around other high-risk individuals.