SALEM - A Salem Community Hospital employee said she doesn't think a new policy forcing her to wear a mask is fair, but hospital officials said that is the requirement for employees who decline to be vaccinated against the flu for health or other reasons.
"For the first time, Salem Community Hospital is requiring all of its employees to be vaccinated, and this vaccine requirement is supported by the SCH medical staff," the hospital's director of public relations, Michele Hoffmeister, said in a written statement. "Those who decline to be vaccinated for health or other reasons will have to wear a mask throughout the flu season. This is another sign of the importance that health care providers place on flu shots."
Marie Fortney, a Salem resident who works in the hospital cafeteria, called this reporter regarding the new requirement and said, "We aren't even sick the bunch of us who have to wear a mask ... I don't know what the mask is going to prevent here. I see no reason for it ... We're not sick, so how are we going to spread germs?"
Fortney has worked there for five years and said it has never been an issue before.
According to Hoffmeister, federal health officials began a "universal recommendation" for flu shots last year.
"According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, everyone older than six months should be vaccinated, with rare exceptions. This is especially important for people who are at risk for serious health complications, including infants, the elderly, pregnant women and those with chronic health issues such as asthma, diabetes or lung disease the kind of people most likely to be found in hospitals, nursing homes and clinics," she wrote.
"That's why the CDC stresses the importance of flu shots for another group: people who live with or care for these at-risk groups, including health care workers. Vaccinations have been recommended for all health care providers by the CDC, the American Hospital Association, and The Joint Commission, which monitors the quality and safety of care provided at participating hospitals. Currently, more than half of the hospitals nationwide are requiring their workers to get flu shots," she said.
SCH launched a staff education program in early October "to explain the importance of influenza vaccinations for health care workers. The program included written information and phone numbers to call for answers to specific questions. In addition, hospital employees were invited to attend panel discussions hosted by SCH physicians to learn more about influenza and how to prevent it," she explained.
According to Lyn Pethtel, director of quality improvement and infection control at SCH, "The virus that causes the flu is spread from person to person by droplets that are coughed or sneezed into the air, or by handling items contaminated by an infected person. People can spread the flu for one to two days before they begin to feel sick. This is why health care workers, who care for people at high risk for flu complications, must take every precaution."
In addition to the staff precautions, members of the community are asked to refrain from visiting hospitalized patients, if they are not feeling well, Hoffmeister said.
Masks are available at the hospital's entrances for people who feel they must visit.