Do patients have the right to know if their doctors and nurses are vaccinated? | WHEC.com

Do patients have the right to know if their doctors and nurses are vaccinated?

Berkeley Brean
Created: September 16, 2021 05:46 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — With two weeks to go before the state vaccine mandate kicks in for health care workers, one patient is asking — what about people like her?

We've covered protests where some health care industry workers say not getting the shot is their right.

But do patients have a right to know if their doctors and nurses and the cleaning staff are vaccinated and can they specifically ask for doctors and nurses who are?

Brean: "Why is this a question for you?"

Jackie: "Because — a lot, I'm immune-compromised."

Jackie is vaccinated including a booster shot but she has a serious illness she's fighting. She asked that I only use her first name.

Brean: "You're seeing all kinds of people saying it's my right not to get the vaccine and you're wondering - do you have a right as a patient..."

Jackie: "To have them not take care of me."

For answers, I went to Dr. Richard Demme.

He just retired from Strong Memorial Hospital and spent the last 19 years on the hospital's ethics committee. 

Brean: "Does a patient have a right to ask to be treated by a vaccinated doctor or nurse?"

Demme: "Certainly they can ask for that but if that's not available they can be told you are free to leave and go seek that somewhere else."

The vaccine mandate, however, is statewide and takes effect on Sept. 27. There is a temporary restraining order in place for health care industry employees claiming a religious exemption. A hearing on that is scheduled in federal court in Utica for Sept. 28.

Demme says a patient has a right to ask if their caretakers are vaccinated but unless the doctors and nurses volunteer an answer, the hospital can't say.

"They're not allowed to get that information," he said. "That is protected health care information."

At the protest outside Strong Hospital Monday, we saw signs that used the words "freedom," "choice," "freedom to choose" and "the right to choose."

Brean: "Is it ethical for a patient-facing doctor or nurse to choose not to get the vaccine?"

Demme: "Well the question then is to avoid doing harm are there other ways to mitigate that or limit that? And I guess if the person was wearing a mask and getting tested daily then they would probably pose no harm or significant harm to patients so that could work ethically. But the cost and labor of actually testing a lot of people every day, the reagents, the lab time, the personnel to do that is something the hospitals have to take into account. It is certainly safer for the patients and therefore a better ethical choice with non-maleficence to protect your patients and avoid doing harm by getting the vaccine."

As of Tuesday, URMC said 91% of its staff at Strong Hospital is vaccinated. It's 88% at Rochester Regional Health System.

Of the 15 hospitals in our region, only three have a vaccination rate below 80%.


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