Virginia Mason mandatory flu policy under fire again

NLRB agrees to hear case on masks

The mandatory influenza vaccination policy of Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle has once again come under fire from unions, this time for the requirement that unvaccinated nurses wear masks during flu season.

In response to a complaint by the Washington State Nurses Association, the National Labor Relations Board charged the hospital with "unfair labor practices" and set a hearing for June. The nurses' association asserted that the hospital refused to bargain before implementing the policy.

"We asked for certain information that we were legally entitled to about the policy. The hospital refused to provide the information," says Anne Tan Piazza, spokeswoman for the nurses association. "They also provided false and misleading information."

Virginia Mason is the first hospital in the nation to require influenza vaccination as a condition of employment. In the past flu season, the hospital vaccinated about 98% of its employees, although the vaccination was not mandatory for the hospital's 600 unionized registered nurses.

The Washington State Nurses Association successfully challenged the mandatory vaccination rule, saying the hospital could not change a condition of employment without engaging in collective bargaining. An arbitrator agreed, in a decision that was upheld in January by the U.S. District Court.

Now the mask policy also is in question. "A very small percentage of staff members who were not vaccinated were asked to wear masks, which is a standard infection control practice," Patti Crome, senior vice president and clinic administrator said in a statement.

Crome noted that the flu policy stems from the hospital's commitment to patient safety.