A federal judge has declined to prevent HCA from implementing a flu-vaccine policy in five hospitals in Northern California despite anecdotal evidence presented by a workers’ union that the policy was exposing workers to negative public attention.
HCA policy upheld
U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel declined to grant the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, a temporary restraining order to halt the Nashville-based chain’s vaccination policy, which requires direct-care workers in Northern California to either receive a seasonal flu vaccine or sign a declination form explaining why not.
Bill Borwegen, the occupational health and safety director for SEIU, said in a written statement that the union supports “comprehensive educational efforts” that increase vaccine participation rates to prevent not just flu transmissions, but all 1.7 million hospital-acquired infections each year instead of “a narrow program that approaches one disease in only one limited way.”
“The hospital’s goal was and always will be to protect its patients and this ruling helps in accomplishing that goal,” HCA Regional Senior Vice President of Strategy and Development Rob Dyer said.
The lawsuit took particular issue with HCA administrators’ policy of requiring vaccinated workers to wear stickers on their name badges denoting their status in order to monitor compliance with the policy. The union said the sticker policies publicly “stigmatized” workers who may have had legitimate health or religious reasons for declining the vaccines.
“These claims are not insubstantial. However, the policy the hospitals seek to implement directly implicates public health, and it is supported by the clinical judgment of infection control experts at the hospitals,” Fogel wrote in the California case. He ordered the union and the hospitals to enter into expedited arbitration to resolve the dispute.
In similar legal battles across the country, arbitrators and politicians have sided with the unions in Iowa and New York, while judges have ruled in favor of the hospitals in Washington state and Nevada (Nov. 16, p. 17).
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