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Worcester Nurses Forced To Choose Between Flu Shot, Mask

WORCESTER (CBS) - A new hospital flu shot policy is causing controversy among the nursing staff at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester.

In an effort to get more of the staff vaccinated against the flu, the hospital developed guidelines that require all physicians to get the shot. Staff members like nurses have a choice. If they do not receive the flu shot, they are required to wear a mask in the building.

Caitlin Davis assisted a patient in the hospital lobby Thursday afternoon with her face covered.

"I don't particularly care to wear it all day," she said. "But if that's what I have to do to avoid getting a flu shot against my will that's what I'm going to do."

Dr. Robert Klugman, who works on quality control at the hospital says many medical facilities have determined requiring flu shots is the best way to keep patients from catching a potentially deadly flu.

"We need to make sure our healthcare work force is as protected as possible for the safety of our patients," he said.

He says health care workers are required to take many steps to protect patients like hand washing and getting measles vaccines.

But the Massachusetts Nurses Association doesn't believe the new guidelines are fair.

"I don't want to have to put something in my body, forced to put something in my body that I don't agree with," said Ellen Smith, a nurse who has never received a flu shot.

The nurses union has agreed that non-vaccinated nurses will wear masks when treating patients, but they argue requiring masks in all hospital areas singles out those who can't or choose not to get the vaccine. They also question the policy's effectiveness.

"We know how to protect our patients, washing our hands, making sure if we cough we turn our heads away. Not everyone does that. Visitors don't know to do that," Smith said.

Dr. Klugman says the masks do not violate nurses rights. "People wear masks all day in all settings of health care. They wear other protective clothing. It's what we do to protect patients from infection."

Many staff do appear to be choosing the shot over the mask. According to Krugman, last year only about 40 percent of hospital staff got the flu shot. This year, the number is 90 percent.

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