Avera and Sanford's immunization policies require employees get vaccinated for flu

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When one Minnesota hospital operator discovered that only 82% of its employees got flu shots last year, it decided to take a different approach – to get the shot or get out. That policy recently left about 50 employees without a job.

"Purely voluntary or more education doesn't get you those high levels of immunization compliance,” said Dr. Rajesh Prabhu, Chief of Patient Quality and Safety for Essentia.

He says since September, employees were told to either g et the flu shot, get an approved religious or medical exemption or leave Essentia. So far 99.5% of employees have chosen the first two options.

Mandatory flu vaccinations for health care workers have been endorsed by such organizations at the Centers for Disease Control and the American Hospital Association.

Since 2013, Avera Health has had a mandatory flu shot policy for all of its employees. Their goal – to protect patients and employees.

“For all of our employees across the system, this is a yearly thing. The flu season comes, flu vaccinations come, flu clinics. It's just time to get in line and get your flu shot,” said Lynne Hagen, Human Resources Officer for the Avera McKennan region.

Hagen says there are lots of patients that have very weakened immune systems.

“Maybe they're seeking cancer treatment or they're premature infants and again that herd immunity – the more people that are vaccinated, the less likely we are to spread the flu to others that might not be able to fight it off as easy as some of us that have our health,” said Hagen.

Hagen says exemptions may be granted for medical or religious reasons.

“If they receive an exemption for their reason, that is noted in their personal file and their medical file,” said Hagen.

Hagen says the more people who receive the flu shot, the healthier and safer our community becomes.

Sanford Health sent KSFY a statement. Their immunization policy has been place since 2013, as well. Nearly 99% of their staff receive the vaccine.

“All staff are required to receive an annual influenza vaccination to protect patients and staff against influenza, a serious, and in some cases, deadly illness. Staff may request an exemption for religious or medical reasons,” said Susan Jarvis, Sanford Fargo Vice President of Operations.