Health care and religion on collision course in flu shot mandate

A hospice volunteer in Itasca County doesn’t want a flu shot and she may lose her volunteer job if she doesn’t get one.

The Duluth News Tribune says the company wants workers claiming a religious exemption to provide examples of how they live by religious doctrine in other aspects of their life, too.

But Noreen Hautala, 58, isn’t claiming a religious reason for refusing the shot (although she had a pastor sign her request for an exemption); she says she had a terrible reaction to a flu shot once. She tells the Duluth News Tribune she’s troubled by the extent to which the company, which intends to fire everyone who doesn’t get a flu shot, is probing religious beliefs of those who are claiming a religious exemption.

A response that arrived on Oct. 20 said her exemption request was neither accepted nor denied, instead asking for additional information within five days. “Failure to provide additional information may result in a denial of your request,” stated the notice, which Hautala shared with the News Tribune.

The information that was sought included identifying the specific religious beliefs preventing her from being vaccinated, describing how those beliefs conflict with vaccination and specifying “other ways that you adhere to such religious belief(s) in your daily life.”

Hautala responded on the fifth day, but didn’t answer those questions. She said she wondered whether it was constitutional to ask such detailed questions about a person’s religious beliefs.

The daughter of a 91-year-old man, for whom Hautala cares, says she has no objection to Hautala not getting the shot.

Someone’s already dying,” Renee Nash tells the paper. “And hospice is just keeping them comfortable and pain-free. So what would it matter whether they had a flu shot or not?”

The health company says it’s been surprised by the objections to the policy.

“This is sort of like a cultural transformation for health care in Minnesota,” said Dr. Rajesh Prabhu, the health system’s patient quality and safety officer. “They’re looking for someone to lead.”

A union is suing Essentia over the edict.