CHICO — It”s become a national trend — and a sometimes controversial one — for hospitals to require employees to wear masks if they haven”t had flu shots, said Dr. Mark Lundberg, Butte County”s health officer.
Last week, Enloe Medical Center adopted a mask policy. It says staff members who haven”t been vaccinated must wear masks if they enter patients” rooms or come within six feet of patients.
Oroville Hospital officials said they were considering taking the same step.
This week in Paradise, Feather River Hospital administrators were about to impose a similar rule, but held off so the matter could be given further study.
This morning, David Welch, a nurse who represents the nurses union at Enloe, said he would meet with the hospital administration to discuss the mask policy. Some nurses have complained to him about it, he said.
Controversy over the issue isn”t surprising, Lundberg said. “There is debate about whether these things will make a difference. And I think when you start requiring things and changing people”s work conditions, people will ask questions.”
A number of county health officers around the state have required hospitals to impose mask policies, but Lundberg said that”s not his style.
He said he”s glad hospital leaders are discussing the matter. “It”s impressive to me that the local hospitals are stepping up and doing the best they can for their patients.”
Explaining the decision at Feather River Hospital not to require masks at this point, hospital spokeswoman Maureen Wisener said, “There have been some questions brought forward about this whole process.”
She said some doctors who work at the hospital weren”t sure masks were very effective at preventing the spread of flu.
“We are working closely with our medical staff to determine what is the best course of action for our facility,” she said.
She said there would be a push to inform employees about the value of being vaccinated, and also free vaccinations would be available at all the sites where employees work.
Lundberg said in the future there may be more information about how effective masks are at preventing the spread of flu.
Welch said the nurses union, the California Nurses Association, strongly believes in flu vaccinations. It encourages everyone to get shots, even though they are only about 60 percent effective, he said.
“We oppose mandatory vaccination,” he said. “And mandatory wearing of masks is not the greatest thing in the world. They have limited ability to stop the spread of those kinds of particles, to or from people.”
He said he”s gotten half a dozen emails or calls from nurses who are unhappy about the policy, and especially about being required to wear stickers of a certain color if they haven”t been vaccinated.
“There”s the sense that their individual health care choices are not something they want to be labeled with,” he said.
Defending Enloe”s stand on masks, Carol Linscheid, the hospital”s vice president for human resources, said flu is now widespread, and many hospital patients — the elderly and very young children — are the ones most susceptible to severe flu symptoms. She said the stickers can help employees remind each other that they need to wear masks in certain situations.
So far this season in the state, nine people under 65 have died from the flu, according to Corey Egel, a spokesman for the California Department of Public Health. He said only the deaths from flu of people under 65 are reported to the department.
Staff writer Larry Mitchell can be reached at 896-7759, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter, @LarryMitchell7.