Goshen News, Goshen, IN

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January 9, 2013

Goshen nurses lose jobs after refusing flu vaccination

GOSHEN — Sue Schrock has strong religious beliefs about what she puts into her body to keep herself healthy.

“My family and I take natural products for our well-being and health. It’s our way of life and God expects us to use products in a natural form,” Schrock said. “It’s the way we believe every day.”

Her religious beliefs caused Schrock to resign from IU Health Goshen Hospital on Dec. 14.

It was one day before a deadline for all employees to get a flu shot at all IU Health campuses.

“I did resign, I was not fired. I did not want that on my record. The last day to get the vaccine was Dec. 15 or we would face disciplinary action,” Schrock said, who has been a nurse off and on for 40 years at the hospital.

Schrock applied for a religious exemption from the mandate.

“I didn’t want the flu shot. I was denied the religious exemption and they said it was more for personal preference rather than a religious reason,” she said. “They didn’t accept my religious explanation. They didn’t accept it because it was biblical based. I don’t want it in my body and I don’t think God wants us to do that and that’s my firm stand. It’s just not who I am.”

Vaccine required

Seven employees no longer qualify for employment at IU Health Goshen due to non-compliance with the Influenza Patient Safety Program policy, said Melanie McDonald, IU Health Goshen Hospital public relations manager.

There were eight employees originally, however, McDonald said the number had been revised to seven since one employee turned in the paperwork for having the flu shot before the deadline.

“The prevention of influenza (flu) is a national health priority. IU Health’s top priority is the health and wellbeing of our patients. Participation in its annual flu vaccination policy to employees has been on an ongoing basis since September through the participation deadline, Dec. 15,” McDonald said.

“IU Health developed its annual influenza Patient Safety Program based on recommendations from health authorities, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association, among others.”

McDonald said employees were given the opportunity to apply for an exemption.

“Each request was taken seriously and considered by a panel of experts comprised of physicians, infection control specialists, chaplains, ethicists and human resources and legal experts,” McDonald said.

The mandatory vaccination policy is not new to health care in our region, McDonald said, adding that Memorial Hospital of South Bend and Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center have policies in place.

“This is not new and not revolutionary,” McDonald added.

Vaccination decision

Lisa Miller chose to keep her job for the future and her family even though she had filed for a religious exemption — and lost.

“With the unfavorable prediction of imminent unemployment, I took it. When I went to get the flu shot, I had to sign a waiver that I was voluntarily getting it,” Miller said. “It was hard for me to sign because that was completely untrue. I am a victim of a mandated influenza vaccination.”

After her exemption was denied, she appealed by hiring a lawyer and still lost.

“I believe we have a choice in health care and the underlying issue... They are taking our freedom away,” Miller said. She has been a technologist for 21 years in the imagining department.

“I chose the religious exemption because God made our bodies perfect and that if we take care of it the right way, it will take care of us,” she said. “It becomes a religious belief for me.”

She said she’s been dealing with contradictory emotions since the incident occurred.

“There’s a lot of emotion, hard conflicting emotions. It’s a hard situation and hard to step forward,” Miller said. “I feel the organization is one-sided in this situation and they aren’t looking at valuing others (employees) choices or beliefs for their own bodies.”

Miller said she’s always valued her employment.

“It’s been like my second home. The people make the place. I’ve appreciated my job and the benefits are very valuable,” she said. “It’s a secure job and it’s an excellent organization to work for. They’ve allowed me to grow in my career and I’ve worked really hard to make sure the people received good care.”

Some of her roller-coaster emotions stem from the final response of the panel of experts.

“I expected them to respond favorably after I contacted the lawyer,” Miller said. “I had faith they would respect my wishes and I was really flabbergasted when they didn’t.”

She said she kept her own opinion to herself about the mandate’s deadline and the termination of her fellow coworkers.

“I was truly respecting my opinion (viewpoint) and not speaking out but they didn’t respect my opinion and I vowed to speak out,” Miller said. “It’s not an attack on them.”

Not voluntarily terminated

Ethel Hoover would have been a nurse in the critical care unit at IU Health Goshen Hospital for 22 years in February.

She opted to not take the flu shot for medical and personal convictions.

“I was not voluntarily terminated, according to hospital language,” Hoover said. “In my language, I was not voluntarily terminated. I have the right as to what goes into my body, not a flu board coming back and saying I should take it.”

She said she had received a flu shot 21 years ago.

“I took it one time and I got sick. I never took it again and developed a strong personal conviction against it,” Hoover said. “God created our bodies in a unique way with healthy immune systems. If you take care of yourself, you will be healthy.”

After her initial exemption was denied, Hoover appealed three more times, she said.

“I was put on the schedule for Dec. 25 and they took me off, so I was terminated at midnight Dec. 25,” Hoover said. “They couldn’t have chosen a worse time and it’s so out of character for the hospital but they had their agenda. A number of employees didn’t want to take the flu shot but couldn’t afford to lose their jobs.”

She said she misses her coworkers in the critical care unit.

“We were like a family,” Hoover said. “I’m not planning to return to nursing. I’m just trying to readjust and realign my life right now.”

Divinely-directed

Another former hospital employee who didn’t take the flu shot was Joyce Gingerich.

She worked on the oncology floor.

“Oncology was one of my favorite, if not the most favorite, in my career of nursing,” Gingerich said, who’s actively seeking options for employment.

“I felt very divinely directed not to take the shot. I felt personally directed through prayer and Bible reading that it was something I should not take,” Gingerich said. “It’s a personal conviction, a faith-walk. I don’t want the shot’s possible adverse side affects in my God-given body.”

She had a flu shot years ago, but doesn’t recall when it happened.

Gingerich said she was among a group of employees who hired an exemptions lawyer after their initial exemption was denied.

“I feel they (the hospital) were wrong in not giving us an exemption. They obviously disagree with me on that point,” she said. “For me, it’s a religious rights violation. I also wish the process of getting terminated would have been better. The hospital refused to talk to us. Even if the end outcome would have been the same, at least they would have listened to our hearts. They were impersonal and that is a disappointment to me.”

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Last weekend (July 12) the Goshen Parks Department held its Kid’s Try-athlon to promote childhood fitness and this week (July 18) the new bicycle trail is open to the fairgrounds in Goshen, offering residents a healthy way to get to the annual agriculture exposition. Have you joined the local fitness movement?

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