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Triumph! VA Agrees to Rescind Patient Recording Policy After NFFE Takes Action to Protect Employee and Patient Privacy Patient Privacy

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

(National Federation of Federal Employees)

In response to action from the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE), the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has agreed to rescind a policy change to allow patients to record inside VA facilities without permission from medical professionals or staff, a change that was highly objectionable to VA employees. NFFE filed an unfair labor practice against the VA after learning that the agency was allowing anyone to secretly record inside VA medical facilities, jeopardizing private health information of veterans and patient care. The Agency agreed to settle the unfair labor practice (ULP) by signing an agreement to stop all enforcement of the policy change, and rescind the policy as soon as possible. NFFE received that agreement March 19th.

“This is a big win for professional employees at the VA who can continue to provide veterans care free from fear of being recorded without their knowledge,” said NFFE VA Council President Jeff Shapiro. “This will allow us to use more discretion in treating veterans, which is critical. This was an important victory for veterans and VA employees.”

The NFFE VA Council raised the alarm when the VA issued a memorandum on patient recording on December 14, 2017. NFFE demanded that the VA bargain over the change in the rules so that the privacy of patients and the high standard of care provided by NFFE-IAM members would not be compromised. When the VA refused to bargain over the change, NFFE filed a charge with the Federal Labor Relations Authority.

The VA does not have a policy to allow recording by anyone inside its facilities. The U.S. Code of Federal Regulations only allows recording for “news, advertising, or commercial purposes” to be made with the written consent of the head of the facility. Even then, such recordings are confined to areas where medical treatment is not being provided.   

The NFFE VA Council heard from members across the country that were concerned that videos recorded inside VA facilities could be edited out of context, or could be posted to social media where the private information of patients seeking treatment could be jeopardized. NFFE-IAM members also voiced concerns that conversations among them regarding patient care may be recorded without their awareness due to the small size and inconspicuous nature of many widely available recording devices.

After NFFE filed the unfair labor practice charge, the Agency entered into settlement negotiations and agreed it would rescind its unilateral decision to allow unrestricted recording inside VA hospitals and medical facilities.

“I am very proud that NFFE was able to stop this harmful and short-sighted policy change that would have opened a Pandora’s Box of problems at the VA,” said NFFE National President Randy Erwin. “NFFE-IAM members came to us with their serious concerns about this change in policy because it would hurt veterans’ care. We challenged this on our members’ behalf and won, and now veterans and VA employees alike are better off. Congratulations to the NFFE VA Council on this major victory for VA employees nation-wide.”

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