Ethel Hoover wore all black on her last day of work as a critical care nurse at University Health Goshen Hospital, ABC News reported Thursday, Jan. 3. Hoover would have celebrated 22 years as a nurse at the hospital in February.
University Health Goshen Hospital imposed mandatory vaccines, responding to rising concerns about the spread of influenza. Ethel Hoover said she had only called out of work four or five times in her entire career as a nurse.
“This is my body. I have a right to refuse the flu vaccine,” Hoover told ABCNews.com. “For 21 years, I have religiously not taken the flu vaccine, and now you’re telling me that I believe in it.”
When Ethel Hoover first heard about the hospital mandate, she was not sure the hospital administration would take it seriously. She filed two medical exemptions, a religious exemption and two appeals, but all were denied. The Dec. 15 flu shot deadline came and went, and Ethel’s last day of employment was Dec. 21.
“It was a good place to work. We’ve worked together all these years. We’re like a family,” Hoover said.
University Health Goshen Hospital said in a statement that it [the hospital] implemented the mandate to promote patient safety based on recommendations from the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The flu shot mandate was announced to University Health Goshen Hospital employees in September 2011. Of the hospital’s 26,000 employees statewide, 95 percent complied. Though 1,300 employees did not comply, only eight employees, including Ethel Hoover, were fired.
Hoover's lawyer, Alan Phillips, says his client had the right to refuse her flu shot under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits religious discrimination of employees. Religion is legally broad under the First Amendment, so it could include any strongly held belief, he said, adding that the belief flu shots are bad should suffice.
"If your personal beliefs are religious in nature, then they are a protected belief," Phillips said.
Phillips, who is based out of North Carolina, has made a name for himself fighting for employees' rights to get out of mandated flu shots, but he has never needed to go to court. Although he usually handles a couple dozen health care workers per year, he had 150 in the fall of 2011 in 25 states.