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Flu shot bill lacks penalty for health workers
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SACRAMENTO . (AP) — Health care workers who don't get a flu shot wouldn't have to wear a mask under an amended bill that state lawmakers sent to the governor on Thursday.

The initial bill was designed to encourage health care workers to get influenza vaccines so they don't infect patients. But the California Nurses Association opposed a provision requiring unvaccinated medical employees to wear surgical masks while seeing patients during flu season.

The Senate passed the amended SB1318 after the provision was stripped away by the Assembly earlier this week. It is not clear how the bill would be enforced without the mask requirement.

The decision sparked finger-pointing between hospitals and the politically powerful nurses union.

The California Hospital Association blamed the union for blocking the mask provision. Hospitals opposed the final bill mainly because the mask provision was removed. The union is lobbying for flu vaccine incentives to be collectively bargained.

"We think wearing masks is the right thing to do for the patients," hospital association spokeswoman Jan Emerson-Shea said after the vote. "How do hospitals enforce this otherwise? ... We think the nurses' union is putting public health at risk by making that an issue for collective bargaining."

Union spokesman Chuck Idelson said the association is neutral on the overall bill and supports its requirement that 90 percent of health care workers be vaccinated by 2015.

"We do encourage people to get vaccinations. We don't think it should be mandatory, we don't think it should be punitive," Idelson said. "There are people who have specific health care concerns about masks, about vaccinations."

The measure on Gov. Jerry Brown's desk now requires health officials to develop a policy that will let hospitals reach that 90 percent vaccination goal. The requirement would apply to about 4,500 California health care facilities.