Nurses file labor complaint against St. Charles Health System over flu shot or mask policy

On Wednesday, the Oregon Nurses Association filed an unfair labor practice charge against St. Charles Health System, headquartered in Bend, Ore., over the system's recently introduced policy of requiring employees to either get vaccinated against influenza or wear a mask through peak flu season, according to a report from KTVZ.

The ONA claims St. Charles violated the rights of its employees under the National Labor Relations Act by not bargaining with the nurses over the change in working conditions. The organization has requested an immediate injunction to stop the health system from implementing the new policy while the board conducts its investigation. ONA nurses have expressed concern over the effectiveness of the new policy and cited it as an invasion of health privacy.

"Nurses have been asking to work together with St. Charles on this policy since the idea was first floated. We raised concerns about the appropriateness of sort of requiring nurses to publicly reveal their private healthcare decisions," Kevin Mealy, communications manager with ONA, told KTVZ. "St. Charles has repeatedly refused to negotiate with nurses."

In a statement released Wednesday, Rebecca Sherer, MD, St. Charles' medical director of infection prevention and control, said, "Our flu and masking policy — which applies to all employees, licensed independent physicians, contractors and students — is modeled after ones in place at many other health systems throughout the state and nation. We value our nurses and our partnership with the Oregon Nurses Association."

Dr. Sherer said hospital officials explained the rationale behind the decision to the union before the masking policy was implemented, and the system stands behind its decision. "It's the right thing to do for our patients and caregivers," she said.

According to a hospital release announcing the implementation of the new policy on Nov. 16, the vaccination rate for influenza among St. Charles caregivers has been approximately 75 percent for the last several years.

In the November release, Kari Coe, director of infection prevention and caregiver health at St. Charles, said, "We need to get to 90 percent vaccination compliance. It's the national goal for all hospitals to meet by 2020 and we need to implement this policy this year in order to achieve that benchmark and maintain it. Many other hospitals across the country have also done this because that's what it took."

More articles on human capital and risk: 
Delaware County Memorial Hospital workers rally for new contract, more staff 
Grays Harbor Community Hospital workers to demonstrate over stalled labor negotiations 
Philadelphia nurses to vote on tentative labor deals with Tenet

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