In late January, a nurse being fired for staying home with the flu made rounds in the media. Theresa Puckett, who was a temporary nurse in University Hospitals, claimed that what happened was a product of unfair treatment on the part of the hospital. Puckett brought her story to News 5 Cleveland, and since then, other stories about the medical industry and their unfair treatment toward staff members cropped up and made headlines.
According to a statement made by University Hospital, the firing of Puckett was a result of their attendance policy, which Puckett was already aware of prior to working with them. Puckett called out sick at the end of 2017 because she was down with the flu. After she recovered and went back to work, she was told that she had violated the hospital's attendance policy and was told that she had been relieved from her post. Even when Puckett provided the hospital with a doctor’s note, she was still denied.
As per a statement made by the hospital, they claimed that the policy required her to approve her absences before not coming to work. However, University Hospital claimed that Puckett had two non-approved absences in 60 days. Due to this, she had to be fired. The hospital also claimed that their policy was a “no-fault” policy for temporary nurses, which means that even absences that have a doctor's note are not approved.
There are only four instances when the hospital will excuse absences. This is when the absence is approved, due to a workplace illness, a jury duty leave, or a scheduled day off. The hospital's policy doesn't allow for any other absences, and it's similar to other medical facilities in the area. So, according to UH, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it.
Puckett told News 5 Cleveland that she was already suffering from the flu earlier before she decided to take off. She said that she was consistently taking cough drops and drinking water so that she didn’t have to deal with the symptoms of her illness.
“I mean the whole nine yards just to patch myself up enough to go to work,” stated Puckett. This was, “A product of a culture among members of the medical field, which aims to see hospitals staffed regardless of the consequences.”
She even told the news channel that right after the incident, University Hospitals posted a status on Facebook advising visitors who are sick to just stay at home. The whole episode left Puckett with a bitter taste in her mouth. With the treatment that she received, many others reacted negatively to what University Hospital did.
There is still some debate on which party has the moral high ground. Because of this, UH was clearly putting some of their patients at-risk for complications.
While most have the tendency to brush off the flu or a cold that will go away after some medication, a lot of people are not aware that the ordinary flu can kill once complications set in. If the ordinary flu is mixed with other infectious diseases, it could mutate into a stronger disease. Also, ordinary flu viruses thrive in the bodies that have weak immune systems. If the body’s immune system isn’t strong enough to fight the virus, the virus will inevitably grow stronger and spread faster.
According to Professor Jose Villadangos of the University of Melbourne, the common flu that escalates into pneumonia and respiratory tract infections are the cause of most flu-related deaths. Critically ill patients are even more vulnerable to flu symptoms that escalate into pneumonia and respiratory tract infections. This, in itself, makes the flu very deadly.
What’s even worse is that every time a flu patient contracts a viral infection, their immune system is directly affected. This means that in the aftermath of the flu, the immune system becomes weaker and won’t be able to protect the body against future infections as well as before.
The flu can cause dangerous infections that can affect patients
According to Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University, influenza, if untreated, can lead to complications, especially in senior citizens, young children, and critically ill patients. He mentions that there are three ways that complications can kill a patient with flu:
Pneumonia develops when a patient starts to have inflammation in the chest. When this happens, the lungs are filled with pus, which can cause death if not treated immediately.
Aside from pneumonia, critically ill patients who are already prone to heart attacks may develop an even higher risk if they contract a very strong flu virus. As the flu usually affects the respiratory system, they usually put too much pressure on the body until it can’t take the stress anymore.
Lastly, Schaffner also states that sepsis is a leading cause of death due to the flu. Whenever you get sick, the body develops an immune reaction. Some people’s immune reactions are so strong that they overload the body with a cytokine. Too much of cytokine eventually leads to sepsis, which can kill.
Final thought: Hospitals need to do better for their staff and patients
Even though each hospital has their own attendance policy that may follow the SOP of most medical facilities, there are times when the policy may actually put the hospital staff and patients in danger. In the case of former University Hospital nurse Theresa Puckett, she was forced to go to work even when she contracted the flu. She had to work until she couldn’t take it anymore before going home.
Firstly, this was very bad for her health because her flu could have developed complications if she continued to push herself. Other than that, leaving a sick nurse in the hospital could be a recipe for disaster. As mentioned above, critically ill patients have a higher risk of developing a deadly version of the flu as compared to those who are generally healthy. A hospital is full of critically ill patients. What would happen if the patient is being cared for by a nurse who has something like the common cold? If the critically ill patient contracts that cold, it will definitely escalate into something much bigger.
This case shows how dangerous an attendance system may be if it is not flexible. Knowing from actual research and studies that the flu can potentially be deadly, institutions, especially medical ones, have to be aware of what to do when their own staff comes down with the flu.