U.S. Hospitals illegally firing workers who do not take the flu shot

Note: Hospitals and other healthcare facilities use vaccination “policies”, not laws, to force workers to take the shots. That is because forcing someone to take a vaccine is illegal, therefore no law exists to truly mandate vaccinations.

By LINDSEY TANNER | AP | JANUARY 14, 2013

Patients can refuse a flu shot. Should doctors and nurses have that right, too? That is the thorny question surfacing as U.S. hospitals increasingly crack down on employees who won’t get flu shots, with some workers losing their jobs over their refusal.

“Where does it say that I am no longer a patient if I’m a nurse,” wondered Carrie Calhoun, a longtime critical care nurse in suburban Chicago who was fired last month after she refused a flu shot.

Hospitals’ get-tougher measures coincide with an earlier-than-usual flu season hitting harder than in recent mild seasons. Flu is widespread in most states, and at least 20 children have died.

Most doctors and nurses do get flu shots. But in the past two months, at least 15 nurses and other hospital staffers in four states have been fired for refusing, and several others have resigned, according to affected workers, hospital authorities and published reports.

In Rhode Island, one of three states with tough penalties behind a mandatory vaccine policy for health care workers, more than 1,000 workers recently signed a petition opposing the policy, according to a labor union that has filed suit to end the regulation.

Why would people whose job is to protect sick patients refuse a flu shot? The reasons vary: allergies to flu vaccine, which are rare; religious objections; and skepticism about whether vaccinating health workers will prevent flu in patients.

Dr. Carolyn Bridges, associate director for adult immunization at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says the strongest evidence is from studies in nursing homes, linking flu vaccination among health care workers with fewer patient deaths from all causes.

“We would all like to see stronger data,” she said. But other evidence shows flu vaccination “significantly decreases” flu cases, she said. “It should work the same in a health care worker versus somebody out in the community.”

Cancer nurse Joyce Gingerich is among the skeptics and says her decision to avoid the shot is mostly “a personal thing.” She’s among seven employees at IU Health Goshen Hospital in northern Indiana who were recently fired for refusing flu shots. Gingerich said she gets other vaccinations but thinks it should be a choice. She opposes “the injustice of being forced to put something in my body.”

Medical ethicist Art Caplan says health care workers’ ethical obligation to protect patients trumps their individual rights.

“If you don’t want to do it, you shouldn’t work in that environment,” said Caplan, medical ethics chief at New York University’s Langone Medical Center. “Patients should demand that their health care provider gets flu shots — and they should ask them.”

For some people, flu causes only mild symptoms. But it can also lead to pneumonia, and there are thousands of hospitalizations and deaths each year. The number of deaths has varied in recent decades from about 3,000 to 49,000.

A survey by CDC researchers found that in 2011, more than 400 U.S. hospitals required flu vaccinations for their employees and 29 hospitals fired unvaccinated employees.

At Calhoun’s hospital, Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Elk Grove Village, Ill., unvaccinated workers granted exemptions must wear masks and tell patients, “I’m wearing the mask for your safety,” Calhoun says. She says that’s discriminatory and may make patients want to avoid “the dirty nurse” with the mask.

The hospital justified its vaccination policy in an email, citing the CDC’s warning that this year’s flu outbreak was “expected to be among the worst in a decade” and noted that Illinois has already been hit especially hard. The mandatory vaccine policy “is consistent with our health system’s mission to provide the safest environment possible.”

The government recommends flu shots for nearly everyone, starting at age 6 months. Vaccination rates among the general public are generally lower than among health care workers.

According to the most recent federal data, about 63 percent of U.S. health care workers had flu shots as of November. That’s up from previous years, but the government wants 90 percent coverage of health care workers by 2020.

The highest rate, about 88 percent, was among pharmacists, followed by doctors at 84 percent, and nurses, 82 percent. Fewer than half of nursing assistants and aides are vaccinated, Bridges said.

Some hospitals have achieved 90 percent but many fall short. A government health advisory panel has urged those below 90 percent to consider a mandatory program.

Also, the accreditation body over hospitals requires them to offer flu vaccines to workers, and those failing to do that and improve vaccination rates could lose accreditation.

Starting this year, the government’s Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is requiring hospitals to report employees’ flu vaccination rates as a means to boost the rates, the CDC’s Bridges said. Eventually the data will be posted on the agency’s “Hospital Compare” website.

Several leading doctor groups support mandatory flu shots for workers. And the American Medical Association in November endorsed mandatory shots for those with direct patient contact in nursing homes; elderly patients are particularly vulnerable to flu-related complications. The American Nurses Association supports mandates if they’re adopted at the state level and affect all hospitals, but also says exceptions should be allowed for medical or religious reasons.

Mandates for vaccinating health care workers against other diseases, including measles, mumps and hepatitis, are widely accepted. But some workers have less faith that flu shots work — partly because there are several types of flu virus that often differ each season and manufacturers must reformulate vaccines to try and match the circulating strains.

While not 100 percent effective, this year’s vaccine is a good match, the CDC’s Bridges said.

Several states have laws or regulations requiring flu vaccination for health care workers but only three — Arkansas, Maine and Rhode Island — spell out penalties for those who refuse, according to Alexandra Stewart, a George Washington University expert in immunization policy and co-author of a study appearing this month in the journal Vaccine.

Rhode Island’s regulation, enacted in December, may be the toughest and is being challenged in court by a health workers union. The rule allows exemptions for religious or medical reasons, but requires unvaccinated workers in contact with patients to wear face masks during flu season. Employees who refuse the masks can be fined $100 and may face a complaint or reprimand for unprofessional conduct that could result in losing their professional license.

Some Rhode Island hospitals post signs announcing that workers wearing masks have not received flu shots. Opponents say the masks violate their health privacy.

“We really strongly support the goal of increasing vaccination rates among health care workers and among the population as a whole,” but it should be voluntary, said SEIU Healthcare Employees Union spokesman Chas Walker.

Supporters of health care worker mandates note that to protect public health, courts have endorsed forced vaccination laws affecting the general population during disease outbreaks, and have upheld vaccination requirements for schoolchildren.

Cases involving flu vaccine mandates for health workers have had less success. A 2009 New York state regulation mandating health care worker vaccinations for swine flu and seasonal flu was challenged in court but was later rescinded because of a vaccine shortage. And labor unions have challenged individual hospital mandates enacted without collective bargaining; an appeals court upheld that argument in 2007 in a widely cited case involving Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle.

Calhoun, the Illinois nurse, says she is unsure of her options.

“Most of the hospitals in my area are all implementing these policies,” she said. “This conflict could end the career I have dedicated myself to.”

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Portugal Approves Polemic Budget Amid Massive Public Protests

By LUIS MIRANDA | THE REAL AGENDA | NOVEMBER 27, 2012

If anyone wants to understand how much disregard governments have for their people, it will suffice to look at Portugal. The country is one of the European nations in worse condition, which caused massive public protests on the streets of the capital Lisbon as well as other cities. Despite the protests and the Portuguese government approved an ever more austere budget after 224 members of Congress discussed and voted for it.

Meanwhile, outside the Congressional building, thousands of people called by the unions and various civic associations, screamed and protested peacefully against the same budget in a desperate attempt to stop it, or at least to voice their anger. Eventually, enough votes from the coalition government conservative CDS-PP PSD decided to approve the text. All opposition (Socialist Party Portuguese, Portuguese Communist Party, the Left Bloc and the Greens) spoke against it.

The multitude of protestors included unionists, housewives, unemployed, students and others. One of these protesters carried a banner with a simple and powerful message: “Get me out of this film.” In one corner, a young man seemed to use a cardboard stand to solicit that people signed his petition against the upcoming move to privatize the water supply.

Everyone is convinced that the newly approved budget is going to make life worse yet some more. It’s true. The text includes, among other measures, a brutal tax increase described by the opposition as a genuine “tax bomb” aimed at wiping the government’s debt and to achieve the goals imposed by Portugal’s new owners, the Troika. The Government argues that a budget is conditional and that its scope to develop another one is very low given the need to adjust spending to meet its commitments.

The cuts are affecting many and especially the Portuguese salaried middle classes, which already carry the enormous weight of the economic downturn in a country that was ‘rescued’ in April 2011 to avoid bankruptcy.

So, starting next year, several sections are taken out from Portuguese Income Tax to raise more revenue in addition to a 3.5% general tax on everyone that will start in January. The hardest hit groups under this new tax scheme are retired people, those who receive unemployment benefits and others who get government subsidies for health benefits. In general, higher taxes, fees and surcharges will all increase for the  Portuguese population and such increases will equal a complete full salary. Government workers and those who are retired will continue to live without their yearly bonuses paid to them once a year, but that was cancelled by the government a year ago.

Indeed, 2013 will be much tougher for the Portuguese people. The economy, according to the government, will fall by 1%, consumption will drop by 2.5% and unemployment will climb to 16.8%. There will be cuts, yet without specifying if they will reach Health and Education. Everything will work a little worse. It is expected that the country achieves a tiny sign of a recovery in 2014, if anything at all, said today the Finance Minister Vitor Gaspar.

The problem is that last year, Gaspar said the same thing referring to 2013, which has made it less likely that people and experts believe what Gaspar says.

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In the U.S., the Establishment is on the Run

The waking of the United States of America has begun.  All over the country, incumbents traditionally in bed with corporations have been voted out of office again and again and again.  Kentucky, Florida, Pennsylvania and other states saw the break of dawn with different eyes as grassroots supported candidates took over senate seats from Establishment candidates from both the Republican and Democratic parties.  While only a few years ago people simply could not see through the smoke screen called partisan politics, it took many Americans only six months to realize that Obama was just another disappointment.  Therefore, many of the President’s allies are now being booted out of office.  The massive awakening has started.  May this awakening serve as an example for more Americans to keep on fighting for liberty and freedom.  May this movement infect patriots in other countries so they also defeat the tyranny of the Establishment, the Globalists and their conquest agenda.

Politico

Rand Paul, the first-time candidate for elective office who has emerged as a symbol of the national tea party’s clout in Republican politics, appears to have clinched the GOP’s nomination for this state’s open Senate seat – in a victory certain to jolt the political order in Kentucky and across the country.

The 47-year-old Bowling Green ophthalmologist – who until last year was best known for being the son of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), whose staunch libertarian views have spawned a national grassroots following – knocked off Trey Grayson, the Kentucky secretary of state who had been the favorite of this state’s political heavyweights, most notably Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“I have a message, a message from the tea party, a message that is loud and clear and does not mince words: We have come to take our government back,” Paul, with his parents and the rest of his family by his side, declared to roaring supporters at a posh country club here in his hometown.

With his attention-grabbing views railing on Washington and its ballooning budget deficits, the fire-breathing Paul successfully connected with this state’s furious Republican primary voters, something that the more subdued Grayson was unable to accomplish in the fight to replace the retiring two-term Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.).

“The electorate is pissed,” said Mike Shea, a long-time political adviser to McConnell. “Rand did a really good job of tapping into those themes and tapping into that anger. Trey is a nice guy, but in his commercials and everything else, he seemed completely unable to generate any kind of dialogue to indicate he was tapping into that. If you meet him, he didn’t seem like he was angry.”

With 89 percent of the precincts reporting, Paul appeared poised to seize a huge victory – leading Grayson by 59 percent to 35 percent of the vote. The Associated Press projected that Paul would win the race.

A packed crowd here at the Bowling Green Country Club let out a loud cheer when the AP projected the race for Paul, who was expected to address some 100 activists here later Tuesday.

But many of the Paul supporters had expected nothing less than resounding victory.

“I kind of expected it actually,” said Brent Young, a 45-year-old tea party activist who works with a local firm researching swine production. “I’ve really been a big supporter of his dad, and I really hope he can be elected in November. Time will tell but we really do think he’s a different kind of politician – and hopefully send a message to the GOP that we want something different.”

Paul is expected to face either Lt. Gov Daniel Mongiardo or state Attorney General Jack Conway, who are in the middle of a neck-and-neck battle for the Democratic nomination. Conway’s views are more in line with the Democratic base’s positions, and he is seen by national Democrats as a safer choice. But Mongiardo is seen as more unpredictable on the campaign trail, though his conservative views that break with the White House could appeal to rural and right-leaning voters. Conway is leading the race in early returns.

While polls showed Paul building a comfortable lead in the final weeks of the primary campaign, his win is still poised to send a shockwave threw the Republican establishment. It’s the first clear statewide victory by the disparate national tea party movement, which propelled his victory based on his calls for radical reforms to Washington, including imposing term limits on senators, mandating Congress be more sensitive to its constitutional prerogatives, constitutionally mandate Congress to balance its budget and force all legislation to directly apply to lawmakers. Absent from Paul’s campaign was much focus on socially conservative and national security views that have generated enthusiasm among tea party supporters in other states.

Conway was leading the race by just two percentage points with 92 percent of the precincts reporting.

“It’s not a real good time for any individual to be in a political position,” Republican state Sen. Carroll Gibson said simply.

Tuesday’s voting turnout appeared lighter than usual in much of the state, due to inclement weather and a lack of a presidential contest this midterm season. The day was colored by allegations from the Grayson camp that Paul’s supporters had been intimidating voters outside polling stations and had improperly sought to verify that voting machines were properly being used, allegations Paul firmly rejected.

Paul appears to have his work cut out for him uniting a divided GOP electorate here. A Public Policy Pollingmemo issued Tuesday found that 53 percent of likely Grayson voters had an unfavorable view of Paul, and 43 percent said firmly they would not vote for the tea party-favorite.

In his victory speech Tuesday night, Paul said nothing about Grayson and declined to extend an olive branch to his opponent’s supporters. Instead, he launched a fierce attack on President Barack Obama, accusing him of “apologizing” to the dictators and running the country towards socialism.

Beyond that, he’ll have to face a newly energized Democratic Party, which views his victory as a bright spot in an otherwise dim election year since it puts the Republican-held seat immediately in play. Already, Democrats are planning to pounce on a number of Paul’s more politically controversial views, including his calls to eliminate the Education Department, severely cut agriculture subsidies to farmers here and his advocacy for increasing the age for Social Security eligibility.

“Sometimes people run primaries different than they run general elections,” Sen. John Cornyn, chairman of theNational Republican Senatorial Committee, told POLITICO when asked if he were concerned that Paul’s views would make him unelectable in a general election. “We’ll see what happens.”

But Paul said he will not “weave and dodge” from the tea party’s message, and he insisted that he will not moderate in the general election.

Grayson, 38, had been viewed as a rising star in the state’s Republican Party. Young, telegenic and seen as a pragmatic-minded conservative, he is one of only five living Republicans to win statewide here, where a majority of voters are either Democratic or independent. With the quiet backing of McConnell for months, Grayson was seen as the heir apparent to Bunning’s seat.

But in the final hours of the campaign that slipped away from him, Grayson’s allies began looking back at what went wrong – and the explanations ranged from failing to account for Paul’s rise early enough, a subpar advertising campaign and a failure to effectively communicate fiscal views to the electorate.

“It seemed to me that he got off to a slow start,” said state Sen. Tom Jensen, a Republican who backed Grayson. “We never really picked up the momentum. It seemed like Rand Paul had the momentum from the beginning and just didn’t lose it. They ran a good campaign.”

And several people here said Grayson failed to push back against the notion that he was the establishment choice, a politically toxic label this election year that he could have more forcefully sought to affix to his opponent.

“He accepted the mantle of being the ‘Washington D.C.’ candidate despite Paul’s obvious ties to his father, and he ceded ground on key fiscal arguments,” said Scott Jennings, a Republican strategist based in Louisville. “Grayson wanted this primary to be about national security because that’s where they thought they had the best opposition research. But this race was about spending and fiscal issues from the beginning, and Grayson’s lack of focus on that cost him early momentum which he never regained.”

As late as Monday, Grayson had complained that he couldn’t get traction on what he considered a key Paul gaffe: that a nuclear-free Iran wouldn’t be detrimental to national security. Paul had responded with a television ad calling Iran a threat, and the tit-for-tat never quite resonated with voters.

“We ran an ad and a quote from him saying that – I don’t know what else we could have done,” Grayson said. “On an issues discussion level, I’m not sure what more we could have done.”

In addition, Paul has positions that stray from the conservative line, including his hesitation over building a fence along the southern border with Mexico and for endorsing a federal ban on same-sex marriage; such positions didn’t seem to resonate with GOP primary voters in an election-year with many concerned about the budget deficit.

And Paul seemed to squash any momentum that Grayson seemed to muster. Last month, for instance, Bunning – who has a strong base of support in the conservative northern part of the state – grabbed headlines when he endorsed Paul, just a day after a new poll found the race tightening.

“I was very surprised because he had said to me straight up that he was going to stay out of the race,” Grayson told POLITICO about Bunning’s decision. “I was surprised. Based upon the things he said to me, I couldn’t reconcile that with what his actions were a month or so ago.”

But Paul benefitted greatly from his name identification as result of his father’s quixotic presidential run for the 2008 GOP nomination that spawned a buoyant band of libertarian followers. And he seemed to be doing something Grayson did not: speak directly to the mood of Republican primary voters angry at President Barack Obama’s agenda – and that anger seems to have cost Grayson his bid for the nomination.

“Obama is the best thing to happen the Republicans, but also the worst thing to happen to some Republican [politicians],” said Todd Inman, a Republican Party activist who supported Grayson.

But Paul credited a “nationwide movement” that helped him win his primary.
“What I say to Washington is, ‘Watch out, here we come.”

US media demands Greek-style austerity for American workers

WSNM

In recent days, the US media—led by the standard bearer of American liberalism, the New York Times—has insisted that workers inseek truth the US, like their brethren in Greece, have been living the good life for far too long and must accept a drastic and permanent reduction in their living standards.

In a May 9 piece, Times columnist Thomas Friedman denounces workers in the US and Western Europe for believing in the “tooth fairy” and expecting government services without paying for them. In America, Friedman says, the baby-boom generation, which supposedly had inherited the prosperity of the post-war years, had “eaten through all that abundance like hungry locusts.”

“After 65 years in which politics in the West was, mostly, about giving things away to voters, it’s now going to be, mostly, about taking things away. Goodbye Tooth Fairy politics, hello Root Canal politics.”

Describing what he has in mind, two days later Friedman wrote about his meeting with Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou in a rooftop restaurant in Athens. Praising Papandreou for defying mass protests, theTimes columnist hails the government for carrying out a “revolution,” including raising the retirement age and slashing wages and pensions for public sector workers, imposing regressive consumption taxes and wiping out two-thirds of the country’s publicly owned companies.

Another May 11 article, appearing on the front page of the Times, is entitled, “In Greek Debt Crisis, Some See Parallels to U.S.” Its author, David Leonhardt, led the newspaper’s campaign to promote Obama’s health care overhaul, explicitly supporting limits on medical treatments ordinary people could receive. (“In truth, rationing is an inescapable part of economic life”).

“It’s easy to look at the protesters and the politicians in Greece—and at the other European countries with huge debts—and wonder why they don’t get it,” Leonhardt writes. “They have been enjoying more generous government benefits than they can afford…

“Yet in the back of your mind comes a nagging question: how different, really, is the United States?… Both countries have a bigger government than they’re paying for. And politicians, spendthrift as some may be, are not the main source of the problem.

We, the people, are.”

It is rich to hear demands for sacrifices and lectures about “the people” living beyond their means, particularly from the likes of Leonhardt and Friedman. The latter, who is paid $50,000 per speaking engagement, is married to the heir of a multi-billion dollar real estate fortune. According to theWashingtonian magazine, the couple owns “a palatial 11,400-square-foot house” in suburban Washington, DC, valued in 2006 at $9.3 million.

In these circles it is taken for granted that massive cuts must be imposed on the living standards of the working class, but not a word is said about the hundreds of billions that are funneled into the personal fortunes of the financial aristocracy and the subordination of the entire economy to increasing their piles of wealth.

The events of the last several years have revealed to the world that the greatest burden on society is not ordinary working people but the anti-social activities of an unproductive and parasitic financial elite. The grotesque consumption and appropriation of social wealth by this oligarchy is not a minor factor in the crisis of the global capitalist system itself.

The bankrupting of whole countries—chiefly through the transferring of the bad debts of the financial speculators onto the books of various governments—is being used to demand austerity from workers and ever-greater riches for the elite.

The four biggest US financial firms—Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase—made money from trading every single day during the first quarter of the year, according to their financial filings. The banks, which all benefited from the Wall Street bailout, reaped hundreds of millions in profits from betting on the movement of currency, commodity and sovereign debt markets, including in relation to Greece.

At the same time, the value of corporate shares has risen, chiefly through a campaign of job cutting, wage and benefit concessions and a staggering 3.8 percent increase in worker productivity in 2009. As a result, corporate CEOs, who took stock options in lieu of pay increases when profits were down, are now cashing in, according to an Associated Press report, entitled, “America’s top CEOs are set for a once-in-a-lifetime pay bonanza.” Yahoo’s Carol Bartz, for example, received a $47.2 million package during her first year on the job, 90 percent of which came from stock awards and options.

While these vast personal fortunes have been made, there has been no recovery in the wages and benefits workers have lost during the recession. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reported that real wages fell last year by 2.7 percent in Japan and Ireland, 1.1 per cent in Germany and 0.8 percent in the US.

The unbridled greed of America’s ruling elite—and the complete subservience of the political establishment, from Obama on down, to its needs—can only be compared to the ancien régime in France. The parasitism and extravagance of the aristocracy became a major factor in the country’s breakdown, and ultimately the eruption of the French Revolution in 1789.

Workers must reject the demand for austerity. The working class did not create this crisis and must not pay for it. Instead, the ill-gotten gains of the ruling elite must be confiscated and used to meet the interests of society as a whole, instead of gutting social programs and destroying jobs.

This must include a multi-trillion dollar program of public works to put the unemployed to work—at decent wages and full medical care—to rebuild the cities and suburbs, repair the nation’s infrastructure and provide high quality housing, medical care and education for all.

In the midst of the Great Depression, the founder of the Fourth International, Leon Trotsky, argued in the Transitional Program that it is “impossible to take a single serious step in the struggle against monopolistic despotism and capitalistic anarchy—which supplement one another in their work of destruction—if the commanding posts of the banks are left in the hands of predatory capitalists. In order to create a unified system of investment and credits, along a rational plan corresponding to the interests of the entire people, it is necessary to merge all the banks into a single national institution. Only the expropriation of the private banks and the concentration of the entire credit system in the hands of the state will provide the latter with the necessary actual, i.e., material, resources—and not merely paper and bureaucratic resources—for economic planning.”

The nationalization of the banks, however, will produce positive results, Trotsky explained, “only if the state power itself passes completely from the hands of the exploiters into the hands of the toilers.”

For this to be realized the working class must build its own mass political party, independent of and irreconcilably opposed to the two parties of big business, and dedicated to the fight for a workers’ government to replace capitalism with socialism.