No more masks required at hospital

A. Marie Hamilton, NLJ Reporter

On Feb. 1, during a special meeting, the Weston County Health Services board of trustees updated its influenza vaccine policy but not before an extended discussion over the need for the special meeting.


Board Chair Dorothy Briggs explained that the current flu vaccine policy stipulated that the 16 individuals who now have exemptions, either for religious or medical reasons, would have to wear masks for the entire duration of flu season.


The new policy removes the mask requirement for those with medical or religious exemptions, and still requires employees to get the flu vaccine. It also requires those who do not have the vaccine and who do not have exemptions to continue to mask. In the event of a flu outbreak, the hospital may require all staff members, with or without the flu shot or an exemption, to mask, until the outbreak is considered over. An outbreak at the hospital would be defined as “two or more patients, residents or staff members” who test positive for the flu.


Before the vote, trustees asked board Chair Dorothy Briggs why the meeting had to be a special meeting and why it couldn’t be addressed during a regularly scheduled meeting. 


“Because we are coming together anyway – and we are anxious to get this out to the staff so we don’t have to wait three more weeks,” Briggs explained. “It’s just a matter of convenience.”


At least some trustees disagreed with the need for a special meeting..


“By doing it in a special meeting — like this — it’s not published until just a day or so ago,” trustee Karen Drost said. “We had staff who wanted to come and comment on this policy before [it passes]. When it’s rushed like this – when we come into a special meeting like this – it feels like we are hiding something even when we are not.” 


Briggs, however, maintained that the intent was to respond quickly to the staff members that had commented on the policy during a previous board meeting in late 2023. Some trustees argued that a number of staff members had anticipated commenting on the policy at the regular board meeting on Feb. 15 but now couldn’t because of the short notice of the special meeting.. 


Drost added that the hospital board couldn’t adequately notify staff members or members of the public using proper protocols because it denied the public access to an agenda to prepare for a meeting.


“It feels like you’re trying to hide something,” Drost said. “There’s no reason to rush it.”


Briggs explained her intent was to do her best for the employees who had concerns and had reached out to the board regarding the potential policy change.


“Employees came to the meeting — they stated their concerns very beautifully and professionally,” Briggs said. “I went and did a lot of research for this policy from the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] to measure their perspective.”


Briggs said she also worked with a WCHS infectious control nurse to understand better what employees were asking the board to do.


“She came up with a solution after we talked about it and is the one that helped me put this together,” Briggs said. “Then I took it to med-staff to get the approval from the quality folks.”


Additionally, Briggs said she fielded questions about the policy from numerous staff members she approached.


“The nurses were asking, that because they had an exemption for the influenza vaccination, which is mandatory, that they were feeling singled out,” Briggs said. “They are having to wear masks from the beginning of the season until the end of March, no matter what.” 


Drost said that while she didn’t disagree with changing the policy, she  felt the rush to pass the new policy was a disservice to staff and the public. She also stated that she hadn’t seen the proposed policy and hadn’t had enough time to read it. Drost also told Briggs she didn’t know about the policy being added to the agenda for the special meeting until a day before the meeting.


Drost said the special meeting was presented to board members as a meeting to discuss personnel with no mention of the flu vaccine policy until she saw an electronic notification from the newspaper.


“I actually received this from the newspaper,” Drost said, holding up an electronic notification of the special meeting that the News Letter Journal published. “And it said influenza vaccine and health care policy changes in addition to the executive session.”


While still defending her decision to hold a special meeting, Briggs said that she had no problems tabling this until the next board meeting — however, the employees will have to wait three more weeks.”


An unnamed employee said that many employees were hoping for a quick resolution but acknowledged the limited nature of the notification. 


When questioned, the unnamed staff member said she had not heard any negative feedback from co-workers but also had not seen the proposed policy changes.

The new flu vaccine policy passed unanimously and will go into effect immediately. 


“This entire board voted on something that none of us have seen (before the meeting) – and that is not fair of any of us,” Drost said after the vote. “If I had received an agenda that said something was on it — I would have gone and looked at it.”


Other board members agreed with Drost, and said it might be unfair that board members didn’t have access to the proposed flu vaccine policy before the meeting last week.


The board then went into an executive session for the remainder of the meeting.

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