No flu shot, no job: Banner Health new policy in effect

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PHOENIX (CBS5) -

Banner Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Marjorie Bessel said the hospital system's nearly 37,000 employees are all in compliance with the company's new mandatory flu shot policy.

However, Bessel did admit there are some part-time employees that are not allowed to return to work until they are in compliance with the new rule.

"There are some employees that are not working now because they have not either got the vaccine or been exempted," said Bessel.

In September, Banner Health announced that the company was mandating flu shots for all of its 37,000 employees in seven states, including Arizona. The company began enforcing the new policy on Dec. 1.

"If you're unable to comply with the policy, we have a process we will follow that will include not being able to work," said Bessel.

Banner Health released the following statement to CBS 5:

"Every employee is important to Banner Health, but we cannot compromise on providing the safest experience for our patients. A number of Banner employees have been placed on unpaid leave because they have not complied with Banner's policy requiring employees to receive the flu shot or file a medical or religious exemption. Banner is working with these employees to bring them into compliance and they will have until Dec. 7 to receive their flu shot or file an exemption. It is our hope that these individuals will choose to comply with the policy."

A Banner health spokesman told CBS 5 that 98.7 percent of employees complied with the new policy in early December. The fewer than five employees who were not in compliance are now working with Human Resources to get in compliance with the new rule. Excluding them, Bessel said 100 percent of employees are in compliance.

"I do see the healthcare industry going that direction and for one big reason. It makes sense," said Will Humble, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Humble says the percentage of healthcare workers who get vaccinated is surprisingly low. Primary care physicians, he says, have high vaccination rates, but the rate among surgeons, for instance, is alarmingly low.

"Let's face it, people go to hospitals to get well. They don't go there to get sick," he said.

"If you have not been immunized, you can spread flu to a patient before you even know you're ill," said Bessel.

Health industry experts say this new flu shot policy is spreading like, well, a virus.

In fact, the state of Colorado now requires all healthcare workers to get flu shots. Some employees, however, have expressed concern to Bessel about the company being too intrusive.

"I have heard that and expected that as we embarked on this journey," said Bessel. "It's not different from other requirements we have for our employees. For instance, all employees are tested yearly for TB."

Some Banner employees are exempt from the new policy, but only those who have a legitimate religious or medical reason. Those workers will be required to wear surgical masks during their entire shift at work until the flu season is over.

"I personally have a lot of allergies, so I just vouched not to get (the flu shot)," said nurse Lauren Osbourne.

"I don't have too many other illnesses that I'm too worried about getting (the flu)," she said.

Osbourne is one of the few dozen employees at Banner Good Samaritan that was exempt from getting the shot. However, she now has to wear a mask whenever at work.

"Other than just being a little humid, I can still perform my job as well as I did before," she said.

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