A Healthy Debate?

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nurse makes the shot in the armAfter being denied unemployment benefits, a nurse recently fired for refusing a flu vaccine filed a lawsuit against her former employer, Hackettstown Regional Medical Center. The court ruled that the hospital did in fact violate this woman’s First Amendment right to freedom of expression. While other employees at her place of work were allowed to skip the shot for religious reasons, this nurse’s more secular motivations for refusing the vaccination led to her dismissal. Although there may be some basis to this woman’s claims of discriminatory practices, isn’t it mainly to the detriment of hospital patients that she won this case? In our politically correct world, when do the rights of the ill and infirmed trump the rights of a healthcare worker to skip a basic healthcare precaution? We count on our healthcare professionals through blind faith alone that they are carrying out their tasks in the safest manner. Our well-being depends on their fastidious attention to detail and commitment to both health and hygiene.

Imagine you were a patient in the hospital and your nurse entered the room wearing a pin that read, “I refuse to be inoculated.” Could you run out of there fast enough? When we keep our closest friends and loved ones away with a ten foot pole when they’ve been infected, would any sane person allow an unvaccinated hospital employee anywhere near them when these employees spend countless hours in close quarters with other sick patients? Not a chance. It is essential that those working in these kinds of environments are doing everything that they can to keep patients safe from harmful germs. That most certainly includes ensuring the health of those caring for these patients. This is especially important when so many hospital patients have conditions that can already cause weakened immune systems, making these people even more susceptible to illness.

Do we want to live in a world where our healthcare professionals are not held to the highest standard?  Perhaps the laws for healthcare professionals should be even more restrictive, when it is our very lives with which we are entrusting them.

Now that this nurse has won her case, where will hospitals draw the line? Any employee of the hospital could refuse a vaccination on any grounds. Of course, the hospital would have to be transparent about the inoculation practices of its employees. When choosing between one hospital or another, patients would flock to the other for fear of picking up a virus. After all, how could the sanitation of the hospital be trusted if it could not even maintain control over the health practices of its employees? This would seriously bring the reputation of the facility into question.

To make matters worse, this case could cause a domino effect and allow many other environments where healthy employees are vital to operations to similarly disregard basic healthcare precautions. Patrons of food service providers and daycares, for example, would steer clear of these businesses during flu season, and these businesses would suffer as a result. Turning this into a debate about freedom of expression ignores the heart of the issue. We need to be able to trust our healthcare providers. Otherwise, our whole system will topple.

Photo credit: © depositphotos.com/thandra

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