Union: Meridian Health revising social-media policy to protect nurses' rights

Two New Jersey hospitals revised a strict social-media policy that could have had nurses in hot water for writing Facebook posts that support the nurses' union during contract negotiations, NJ.com reported.

The contract with Meridian Health-owned Southern Ocean Medical Center and Jersey Shore University Medical Center has since been ratified. But during negotiations, nurses were told by their managers that Meridian's social-media policy prohibited posting anything about the healthcare system on social-media sites, according to Bridget Devane, public policy director for the union.

In October the union filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, according to the article, contending that the policy violated nurses' rights. The complaint was withdrawn last week as part of the ratification of the new contract; Devane said Meridian also agreed to revise its policy.

She said the union agrees that social-media policies need to protect patients' rights, but shouldn't be so "broad and vague that union activity could be disciplined."

James Cooney, a labor arbitrator and a professor at Rutgers University's School of Management and Labor Relations, said workers have a right to discuss workplace conditions, policies and complaints, whether online or a more traditional forum, according to the article. At the same time, complaints about supervisors, individual situations, customers (or patients) aren't federally protected, he said.

Determining exactly what type of posts violate patients' rights can be a tricky proposition as well. A 2012 survey found that about 30 percent of state medical boards reported complaints of "online violations of patient confidentiality," FierceHealthcare previously reported.

Last year a nurse at New York Presbyterian Hospital was fired after posting an Instagram photo of an empty trauma room where medical teams had treated a man hit by a subway train. The nurse said she was told she hadn't violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, but that her post was insensitive. Other cases are more blatant, such as the emergency doctor at Chicago's Northwestern Memorial Hospital who posted photos of a model admitted after consuming too much alcohol.

For more information:
- here's the NJ.com article