Flu vaccines are now mandatory for Rhode Island healthcare workers
who have direct contact with patients in healthcare facilities in the state.
The policy, proposed by the Rhode Island Department of Public Health (PDF)
, gained approval despite objections from the American Civil Liberties Union and SEIU Healthcare No. 1199 New England, which represents healthcare workers in Rhode Island and Connecticut. The SEIU circulated petitions in favor of vaccinations, but opposed making them required.
The Rhode Island policy would require flu vaccines for all healthcare workers, including nurses, volunteers and physicians. The American Nurses Association supports only mandatory policies if they meet certain criteria, spokesman Adam Sachs said. Ensuring the policy covers all workers is one of the requirements, Sachs noted. The ANA also prefers that policies don't gain approval on a facility-by-facility basis. The ANA prefers a uniform policy covering all facilities. In the Rhode Island case, the mandate comes from the state, which satisfied the ANA. Sachs said the policy was imperfect, but headed in the right direction. A post on the SEIU Facebook page
said: “We support increasing vaccination rates, but forcing & threatening workers is the wrong way. Stay tuned—this isn't over.”
New York officials adopted a similar mandate in 2009, but lawsuits by unions and others halted the policy. Among their objections was that such provisions should be part of collective bargaining.
Rhode Island was already one of nine states
that required vaccines to be offered by healthcare facilities, even though workers could decline them. The Rhode Island mandate offers medical and religious exemptions. The mandate would require employees to submit any exemptions to their facility by Dec. 15 of each year. Those who aren't vaccinated would have to wear surgical masks. That's similar to a policy approved last month
at 21-hospital Banner Health in Phoenix. The Hospital Association of Rhode Island supported the mandate.
“Rhode Island is a recognized leader in providing quality healthcare,” association President Edward Quinlan said in an e-mailed statement. “This regulation is another example of our state's dedication to providing the best possible care for patients. We recognize Rhode Island Department of Health Director Michael Fine for his leadership on this important issue.”