NJ officials question health care workers’ ability to care for prisoners without flu vaccination

Officials at New Jersey’s Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) are questioning a decision by hospital security to bar off-duty health care employees from the facility, preventing them from providing the drug-free vaccines that would prevent outbreaks of measles and influenza.

The New Jersey Department of Health Thursday said 118 employees who were at least 21 years old and no longer covered by their health plans had contracts with specific diseases in advance of the 2019 flu season that had started in early December. More than half of those are being told to stop coming to work until they have their medications.

Of the ones whose schedules have been determined, there is no way to account for what the off-duty health care workers have been doing with their time since before the flu season started, Metropolitan Detention Center Health Services Administrator Tim Kaple told FoxNews.com.

“Answering for the 84 [whistleblowers] that we’ve lost is extremely difficult, but we are trying to do what we can to maintain what we have,” Kaple said in an interview Thursday. “From the day that these reports came out, it has been an attack.”

A spokesperson for Midtown Physicians in Newark told New Jersey Online that despite the claims of the federal agency, health care workers are never banned from the jail.

In a letter sent on Thursday to members of the county human resources department that included the names of those employees, Kaple claims there were concerns about the security risks to those who would provide the vaccines, including exposing them to violent inmates that have been determined to have infectious diseases.

“We are concerned that a security officer or health care provider taking possession of a vaccination may be confronted by another inmate who has been determined to have infectious diseases or was at high risk because of their criminal convictions,” the letter reads.

Some said that, given the delay of healthcare workers being notified of the potential contract, it would be difficult to keep healthcare workers away, and several have even had health issues.

“I’m not for a ban, but I’m also for keeping our health in-house,” one woman, who is requesting anonymity, told NJ.com. She said she is a nurse but lost her job at the jail.

Another female employee came forward, fearful that her child, who has health issues, will not be able to get the vaccine.

“The suspicion that some of the people making the ban are either employees of the agency or ex-employees of the agency is a red flag for me. How can they refuse people from helping them?” she told the news outlet.

The MDC is currently a temporary holding facility for immigrants facing deportation who seek to stay in the country. Those inmates without U.S. citizenship do not have access to drugs including the flu shot, and often undocumented immigrant parents sometimes have to drive for hours to get their children vaccinated, according to a spokesman for the state Health Department.

As to the current effects of the decision on the health care workers, Kaple, who oversees health services, said those numbers remain a mystery. He also said he doesn’t have a clear answer as to why the health care workers who hadn’t received their vaccines were not sent a letter, but said some have left their jobs out of concern.

“We’re doing what we can to keep people from missing work,” he said.

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