AUGUSTA — A patient discharged Friday from MaineGeneral hospital said some staff declined to answer her when she asked if they’d been vaccinated against COVID-19 — and warned her that if she kept asking them that question they wouldn’t treat her.

Helen Hoad of Windsor said she didn’t want to be directly treated by anyone who hadn’t been vaccinated, out of concern she could become infected with COVID-19. So, she asked any hospital workers coming into her room to provide care whether they had been vaccinated.

Everyone she asked in the emergency department responded without objection that they had been vaccinated. But later in her two-day stay, Hoad said she was taken aback when at least two hospital staffers on the floor where she was moved told her they had been advised not to answer that question and not to discuss that with patients.

So she asked them to leave her room, which they did.

After that the floor’s head nurse, whom Hoad declined to identify, came into her room and she asked him the same thing. He responded, Hoad said, by telling her he didn’t have to answer and she had no right to ask his staff that question.

“Then he said no nurse on my floor will be able to treat you, if that’s the way you’re going to be,” Hoad said.

When she responded that she guessed she’d have to leave then, he said she could certainly do that. He then went and got a discharge form which he threw onto the counter and walked out.

“I thought ‘Wow, this is crazy; you don’t treat patients like that,'” Hoad said of the encounter. “I wasn’t yelling at anybody; I wasn’t being nasty to anybody in any way, shape or form. I was polite to the people treating me, and I treated everybody with respect and expected to be treated with respect back. And he didn’t treat me with respect.

“We have rights as patients,” she added. “We have rights to know certain things.”

Hoad said a nurse eventually told her she had been vaccinated and treated her for the rest of her stay.

Joy McKenna, spokesperson for MaineGeneral, said she didn’t have information about that specific instance, but said patients may ask hospital staff whether they are vaccinated. She said employees may choose to answer if they wish, but they are not required to do so.

McKenna also said the hospital would not refuse treatment to a patient who asks whether staff have been vaccinated. She said the hospital does not have a policy about whether staff should talk about their vaccination status with patients.

She also said the hospital would not disclose the vaccination status of employees, because patient confidentiality standards of the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act also apply to staff.

“Employees may choose to answer that question, but they are not required to do so,” McKenna said. “Just as we respect HIPAA related to patient confidentiality, we do not give out health information about staff.

“We put (the) safety of our patients and staff at the forefront of everything we do, and as such follow all (Center for Disease Control & Prevention) guidelines in our facilities to protect patients during the pandemic,” she added. “This includes using required (personal protective equipment), universal masking, eye protection with patient contact, and social distancing where possible.”

Hoad said after her encounter with the head nurse, a woman who she believed to be his boss came to talk to her. She said she was very nice, but she insisted that under HIPAA regulations Hoad had no right to ask whether staff were vaccinated. She also told Hoad people were upset about the state’s mandate that health care workers be vaccinated by Oct. 1.

HIPAA doesn’t prevent average person from asking health care questions, nor does it prevent them from volunteering information.

Hoad said she didn’t see it as a political question and didn’t understand why some people wouldn’t just answer. If people were not vaccinated, she said, she didn’t want to be treated by them because of the close physical proximity required to care for her heart issue.

The head nurse later returned to her room and apologized, Hoad said, adding that his nurses were upset about being asked the question, so he was also upset. She said she doesn’t want any staff members to get in trouble for their responses to her questions, but wants the hospital to provide better training and for patients to be able to feel comfortable asking that question of their health care providers at MaineGeneral.

“I said, ‘Look, mandate or no mandate, what’s the big deal about saying yes or no about whether you’ve been vaccinated?'” Hoad said. “‘You either are or you’re not. If not, you’re not treating me.'”

McKenna said MaineGeneral is working toward meeting the state’s vaccination mandate for health care workers and doing all it can to make it easy for employees who need vaccinations to get them, and provide education about COVID-19 and vaccination. She said, per the state mandate, all staff are required to be vaccinated by Oct 1.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.