RODNEY BOND never expected a gold watch or a plaque commemorating his 31 years of service to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

He expected what he always got, a day's pay for a day's work.

"This job served me well," Bond said. "I got married young, three years out of high school. I needed a job. Some may say I was complacent.

"But I've been able to raise my family. I've always been happy for what this job has done for me.

"I'm disappointed about what's happening to me. But I'm not a disgruntled employee."

As of tomorrow, he won't be an employee at all. Bond, 51, who works in environmental services keeping the hospital clean, and at least eight others are being fired for refusing to take a seasonal flu shot.

Children's Hospital, in a laudable attempt to protect its patients, has required all its employees to be inoculated for seasonal flu this year for the first time in its history.

Hospitals around the city, indeed all over the country, are adopting similar measures. But the requirement at CHOP exceeds the guidelines offered by the Centers for Disease Control and is far more harsh than policies at other area hospitals.

Typically, hospitals have required their workers to either get a flu shot or wear surgical masks when they are near patients. At CHOP, they have rejected the masks as a possible alternative.

Even hospitals with similar policies have not fired employees for failure to comply. CHOP is also distinct in its uneven application of the policy.

Hospitals generally offer workers the option of taking a flu shot or signing a statement to decline it for medical or religious reasons.

But at CHOP, a panel reviews the legitimacy of the claims, accepting some, rejecting others.

"Every request was given a careful evaluation," CHOP spokeswoman Peggy Flynn told me yesterday. "They had to show sincerely held religious beliefs."

How a group of medical people sets itself up as the arbiters of someone's sincerity is beyond me.

"They told some in our groups that they weren't religious enough," Bond said. "I am a herbalist. I have never had a flu shot. It goes against my belief system. That is a spiritual principle for me.

"How can my employer say it's not. Who on that board is spiritual enough to make that decision?"

Flynn maintains that the hard line was needed because "we wanted to be sure we were taking every step to ensure the highest level of patient safety."

Of course they do. But so do hundreds of hospitals where the policy is much more relaxed.

"Each organization needs to do what is clinically and culturally correct for them," Dr. Marc Hurowitz, associate medical director at Temple University Hospital, told KYW radio.

"In our case, we've found that if we work with people, we tend to get the same [results] rather than develop a confrontational way of dealing with it."

It may be tempting to dismiss the nine union workers and an undisclosed number of non-union workers who will lose their jobs as people who are just stubborn or who don't care about patient safety.

But organizations representing more than 100,000 registered nurses in America are opposing the mandatory inoculation requirements - and winning.

The Washington State Nurses Association filed a grievance against the policy that went to arbitration. The arbiter agreed that the policy was too harsh.

Virginia Mason Hospital, in Seattle, went to court to overturn the arbiter's ruling. A federal district court upheld the arbiter. The hospital appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and lost again.

The California Nurses Association's National Nursing Organizing Committee, representing 86,000 nurses and health-care professionals, issued a statement in September saying that the policy should be optional.

It was concerned enough about patient safety to urge its members to comply.

"But nurses should maintain their right to decline for personal reasons," the nurses association's statement concluded.

For Rodney Bond, that idea makes as much sense for a guy who mops the hallways as it does for nurses. His union, District 1199C of the Hospital and Health Care Employees Union, has filed for arbitration.

"We're not insensitive to patient safety," said union spokesman Gary McCormack. "But to fire people who don't want the shot is way too extreme.

"We offered to wear masks. We've been talking with them since the suspensions [two weeks ago]. But we're going to do whatever we have to do to protect our members."

Not soon enough for Rodney Bond and the others. He picked up his last paycheck yesterday.

"I felt so uneasy," Bond admitted. "I'm thinking, 'You're going to put yourself out of a job in this tough economy.'

"But I'm not feeling as much pressure as some of us. We have one young couple losing their jobs. They have five children and this is their only income.

"It's hard. But I prayed about this and I know God's got my back.

"I'm going to stick this out if I end up living in a hole. This is about my freedom."

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