178 health care workers suspended from Houston Methodist hospital system for refusing COVID-19 vaccination – USA TODAY
Scores of workers at a Houston hospital system have been suspended and face being fired for refusing the COVID-19 vaccination, a controversial company mandate that has drawn protests and an outcry from those facing termination.
Houston Methodist CEO Dr. Marc Boom said the 178 workers represent less than 1% of almost 25,000 employees.
“We are nearly 100% compliant with our COVID-19 vaccine mandate,” Boom said in an email to staff Tuesday. “Houston Methodist is officially the first hospital system in the country to achieve this goal for the benefit of its patients.”
Boom said 27 of the 178 suspended workers have received one dose of vaccine, and that he is hopeful they will get the second dose. All are suspended for two weeks and are set to be fired if they fail to be fully vaccinated.
“I wish the number could be zero, but unfortunately, a small number of individuals have decided not to put their patients first,” Boom said.
An additional 285 employees received a medical or religious exemption, and 332 were granted deferrals for pregnancy and other reasons, Boom said.
“I feel betrayed a little bit,” Amanda Rivera told KHOU-TV as she left the building Monday. “I worked in the ER. It was crazy during the pandemic. We were short-staffed. The hospital was over capacity with patients. It was just a lot. Now for them to come and do this is like a slap in the face.”
Hospital workers across the nation risked their lives during the pandemic, and many died of the virus. Yet a recent USA TODAY survey of some of the largest hospital networks and public hospitals in the country reveal staff vaccination rates vary widely, ranging from 51% to 91%.
Last week, Indiana University Health announced that it will require its 36,000 employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by September, calling the mandate a “safe and effective way to protect patients” and protect the community.
“Requiring vaccinations for healthcare employees is not new or unprecedented,” IU Health said in a statement.
Hundreds of colleges and universities are requiring vaccinations for the coming school year. Many nursing homes, hot spots early in the pandemic, also are requiring inoculation from the coronavirus.
The Houston Methodist controversy “foreshadows the coming months,” said Ogbonnaya Omenka, an associate professor and public health specialist at Butler University in Indianapolis. Mandates that may seem like the obvious choice to many people must be “implemented within a human context,” he told USA TODAY.
“As businesses and schools return to full operations, they have to decide what to do about their vaccination policy,” he said. “It is not going to be an easy process.”
Mandatory vaccination is not popular with lawmakers in Texas. Gov. Greg Abbott signed a law Monday denying state contracts to businesses that require customers to be vaccinated. Vaccine “passports” also are prohibited.
“Texas is open 100%, and we want to make sure you have the freedom to go where you want without limits,” Abbott said.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has issued guidance saying employers have the right to require COVID-19 vaccination, citing a “direct threat” to others in the workplace. Still, more than 100 Houston Methodist employees filed suit against the hospital system last month saying the vaccines are “experimental” and that the mandatory vaccination policy is unfair.
“I cried the whole way out,” Jennifer Bridges, a nurse involved in the lawsuit, told KHOU-TV as she exited the hospital Monday.
Boom said the science, along with data from 300 million doses already distributed in the U.S. alone, proves the vaccines are safe and necessary “if we are going to turn the corner against COVID-19.” The number of both positive cases and hospitalizations continue to drop across the nation continue to decline, he said, proving the vaccines’ effectiveness.
Boom said the mandate has been challenged by the media and some outspoken employees. But he said several other major health care centers have followed Houston Methodist’s lead.
“As the first hospital system to mandate COVID-19 vaccines we were prepared for this,” he said. “The criticism is sometimes the price we pay for leading medicine.”