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January 9, 2013

Fired nurse: Requiring flu masks amounts to a 'scarlet letter'

Daily Briefing

    A Missouri nurse who obtained an exemption to her hospital's flu vaccination mandate—but was fired after refusing to wear the mask she had initially agreed to use—is speaking out against the mask requirement.

    Hospitals are increasingly requiring staff to obtain vaccinations in an effort to curb the spread of influenza. However, a number of health care workers have challenged the requirements, which has led to some suspensions and dismissals.

    Carla Brock—a board-certified holistic nurse in Springfield, Mo.—is focusing on the mask requirement: Many hospitals with vaccine mandates require that workers who obtain exemptions wear surgical masks for all patient interactions.

    In September, Brock obtained a religious exemption to the flu vaccination mandate at her hospital, where she had worked for 11 years. "We jumped through the hoops," she told the News-Leader, adding, "We did all the right things." Per hospital policy, she began wearing a surgical mask while working on Dec. 31.

    However, Brock questioned the effectiveness of the mask policy and said it impeded her ability to do her job. In addition, the mask made it difficult to breathe and gave her headaches, she says.

    According to the Springfield News-Leader, Brock detailed her objections to hospital management and was asked to provide documents demonstrating that a medical condition prevented her from wearing a mask. Although she had no such documents, she informed the hospital on Monday that she would not wear the mask and was terminated.

    Debate over wearing masks: Punishment or patient safety? 

    Responding to her termination, Brock called the mask policy "obviously punitive" for those who refused to obtain vaccinations. "The 'scarlet letter' word keeps coming up," she told the News-Leader

    Brock is not alone in her critique of hospitals' flu vaccination policies. Nurses in Massachusetts also have challenged mask requirements for staffers that refuse shots, according to the Boston Globe and CBS Boston.

    However, hospitals stress that requiring masks for staff who refuse the flu vaccination is all about patient safety. "The logic behind [the mask requirement] is that you can spread the flu before you have symptoms of it," a hospital spokesperson told the News-Leader, adding, "The way you spread the flu is through your upper respiratory system, so the mask contains that."

    The spokesperson also noted that the organization's policy is "similar to hundreds if not thousands of health systems across the country. Our first priority has to be the patients"(Gounley, News-Leader, 1/8; Conaboy, "White Coat Notes," Boston Globe, 11/30/12; Leamanczyk, CBS Boston, 11/29/12).

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    1. Current ArticleFired nurse: Requiring flu masks amounts to a 'scarlet letter'

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