Court Upholds Mandatory Face Masks for Health Care Workers

In recent years, there has been considerable controversy over whether the state’s interest in protecting the health of patients in hospitals and nursing homes trumps the right of the physicians, nurses and other individuals providing services in those facilities to determine for themselves whether they will be inoculated with anti-influenza (flu) vaccine. Some states, including New York, have compromised by requiring that those who refuse to be inoculated wear face masks when interacting with patients. However, that too has been unacceptable to some health care workers. Two court decisions, including a recent one from the Appellate Division, have dismissed a challenge to the face mask alternative, and offer solid legal analyses of this issue.

Background

Patients in hospitals, elderly residents of nursing homes, and those receiving home care services often have compromised immune systems, and as such are especially vulnerable to contracting the flu (and other contagious diseases) from people with whom they come into contact. While the flu can make a healthy person very sick, it can debilitate or even be fatal to sick or elderly individuals.

Many hospitals, nursing homes, home health agencies, and other health care facilities in New York have long required that any health care provider or employee who is exposed to patients be vaccinated against influenza. Depending upon the facility, however, this requirement was sometimes enforced and sometimes not.

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