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Goshen Hospital employees fired for refusing flu shot

December 31, 2012|By Kelli Stopczynski (kstopczynski@wsbt.com) | WSBT TV

GOSHEN – Sue Schrock’s personal and religious beliefs are strong.

“They are biblical and they are God-led and they are who I am,” she said.

Ultimately, those beliefs that she should be able to control what goes into her own body led the hospice nurse and long-time Goshen Hospital employee to not get a flu shot – a vaccination she says she hasn’t had in about 30 years. It also cost Schrock her job.

“I just feel like it’s a toxin I don’t want in my body. There are side effects with it. There are no guarantees that it’s even going to protect you,” she said. “I prefer the natural route of healing, and we take vitamins, and we don't overdo it – just natural vitamins.”

Schrock is one of six employees Goshen Hospital fired in December after IU Health made the flu shot mandatory at all of its campuses for the first time in September. Two other employees quit because they didn’t want the shot, said hospital spokeswoman Melanie McDonald.

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Oncology nurse Joyce Gingerich, who has worked at the hospital off and on since 1986, fought the same battle for similar reasons.

“I knew right away I would have to walk away from getting the shot,” she said.  “I have a personal conviction that I don’t want to have one in my body.”

Gingerich also added that aside from her religious beliefs, she feels the need to fight for the right to have personal choices.

Schrock and Gingerich are two of 26 Goshen Hospital employees who filed appeals with the hospital in October, asking not to get the vaccine for religious reasons. The two women and one other nurse even hired a North Carolina vaccine rights lawyer who filed a second appeal in November. The hospital denied both.

“The health and safety of our patients is top priority, it has to be,” said McDonald. “People are entrusted to us to make sure they get healthy.”

A committee reviewed each religious appeal, according to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines, she added.

“If it were religious beliefs as defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, they would not have been terminated. Sometimes there can be a little bit of grey area, and people who have very personally held beliefs will present those as religious opportunities for exemption,” McDonald said.

Out of the 26 religious appeals, the committee granted 11 exemptions, allowing those employees were allowed to keep their jobs without receiving a flu vaccination, she added. Some other employees were also exempted because of allergies to the shot.

But Schrock and Gingerich said they’re most upset that the hospital refused to sit down and have a face-to-face conversation with them – even after the women requested a meeting.

“I really would have liked some conversation. I really would have liked to be treated like a colleague and was not. I really would have liked for them to understand my views and where I'm coming from and how strongly I feel about those views,” Schrock said.

“I am not a troublemaker,” said Gingerich. “I feel like I’m a good nurse, and unfortunately, the hospital is losing some good nurses.”

Other local hospitals are also making flu shots mandatory for employees, including Memorial Hospital and Elkhart General. Memorial spokeswoman Maggie Scroope said she did not know of any employees who refused to get the shot by the hospital’s December 15 deadline.

Elkhart General did not immediately return WSBT’s phone call but spoke with one employee who said she’s in the middle of the appeals process because she refused to get the shot. She was still waiting to hear about the status of her job late Monday afternoon.

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