In order to prevent surges of COVID-19 in hospital systems, many organizations are enforcing mandatory vaccine policies among all employees. Some ways in which hospitals and organizations are deciding about whether to enforce these policies include:
- Polls and surveys distributed to faculty and staff;
- Vaccine availability;
- State legislation and permissions regarding vaccine mandates;
- Private vs public permissions;
- Religious accommodations and percentage of staff who fall under this category
Determining a mandatory vaccine policy among staff is not an easy task, but as the spread of COVID-19 begins to slow, and many more Americans are fully immunized from the virus, it’s becoming a feasible option to ensure safety of both patients and staff. Most recently, hospitals including Northwell Health System, Penn Medicine Lancaster, New-York Presbyterian, and Community Health Network have all enforced vaccine mandates on either current or new staff. However, one hospital has gained national attention for the backlash it’s received among staff members due to the new vaccine mandate policies.
What’s Happening in Houston
Houston Methodist hospital has become a household name in the past few weeks due to the large number of staff protesting the mandatory vaccination policies. A group of nurses refused the vaccine–and met pushback from the hospital.
Days of picketing and opposing the mandate led to 117 nurses suing the hospital. Back in April, Houston Methodist president and CEO Dr. Marc Boom informed employees by email that they must receive at least the first dose of the emergency authorized vaccine by June 7 or they would face termination. Hospital management later specified that employees not vaccinated by the deadline would be placed on a fourteen-day suspension without pay and then terminated. Workers were told they could apply for an exemption for pregnancy or “religious” exceptions.1
In federal court, the judge sided with the hospital, saying that it has every right to enforce a vaccine mandate among it’s staff. However, the nurses and staff involved in the case are not yet ready to back down.
“No one should be forced to put something into their body if they’re not comfortable with it,” said Jennifer Bridges, a nurse who has worked for Houston Methodist for over 6 years. “We will fight this all the way to the Supreme Court,” Bridges said Monday. “This is wrongful termination and a violation of our rights.”1
*Editor’s note: As of June 22, 2021, a total of 153 Houston Methodist employees either resigned during the two-week suspension period or were terminated for not complying with the health system’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
Other Petitions in Pennsylvania
Lancaster General Health, a part of Penn Medicine Hospital Network in Pennsylvania, recently implemented a vaccine mandate policy among it’s employees. Similarly to Houston Methodist, the mandate has been met with pushback from some employees, with many signing a petition against the new policy.2
Grassroot organizers Pennsylvania Informed Consent Advocates and Free PA are behind the petition drive, and it is unclear how many employees are resisting the vaccine mandate. As part of the mandate, employees and clinical staff are required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by no later than Sept. 1. New hires also must provide proof of at least one dose two weeks before beginning work. University of Pennsylvania Health System is offering exemptions for medical or religious reasons, similar to the health system’s long-standing flu vaccine policy.
Currently, 77% of employees within Penn Medicine’s system are vaccinated.
Are We Sure This is Legal?
The failed lawsuit that occurred in Houston has bigger implications for other employers. Because the judge dismissed the case, other employers can continue to enforce these policies without worrying about being taken to court.
However, bigger issues can be introduced if employers start asking for proof of vaccination.
“[L]et’s say an employer says ‘I want you to get a vaccine and I’m ordering you to have proof of that vaccine’, well how are they going to enforce that if they can’t ask for verification? That’s going to be the next lawsuit you might see,” said Rogge Dunn, business & employment attorney.3
There also could be some future issues with companies that do not require direct care of patients.
“When a hospital says ‘we want to vaccinate our employees who help us administer healthcare’, that’s a pretty powerful argument, and the bodies of law she was going on don’t really bear on that situation, but they might have more bite with a conventional employer that’s not dealing directly with healthcare,” said David Coale, constitutional law attorney.
A Possible 2021 Healthcare Trend
It’s safe to say that requiring COVID-19 vaccines in order to work at hospitals across the country could be the newest healthcare trend we see. New York-Presbyterian is requiring employees to get vaccinated or obtain a valid exemption for medical reasons, pregnancy or religious reasons. The health system said all employees, physicians, students, clinical rotators, volunteers and vendors must have received their first dose no later than Sept. 1, and, for 2-dose vaccines, workers must complete the vaccination process on the prescribed timeline. Newly hired employees also must follow a vaccination or exemption process.4
Community’s 16,000 employees must be fully vaccinated by Sept. 15 unless they receive exemptions for religious or medical reasons. The requirement applies to vendors, contractors and volunteers who work at Community’s hospitals and care sites.4
Benefis Health System in Great Falls, Mont., said it made the vaccine mandatory for about 250 employees working in senior services. Employees who are not exempt are required to get their second doses by July 1.5
University of California Health will require COVID-19 vaccines. Vaccinations will be mandatory for faculty, staff, academic appointees and students accessing University of California campuses this fall.5
The state of Maryland, the city of San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. are all requiring hospitals to enforce vaccine mandates among their staff. In San Francisco, however, there is a criteria that health systems need to meet in order to enforce this mandate, such as type of facility or types of conditions treated.5
- Hansen H. Houston hospital nurses stage walkout over vaccine mandate. The Texan. Published June 8, 2021. Accessed June 23, 2021.
- Gooch K. Pennsylvania healthcare workers petition against mandatory vaccination. Becker’s Hospital Review. Published June 9, 2021. Accessed June 23, 2021.
- Nguyen L. Experts say employers can require vaccinations after ruling in Houston Methodist case. Fox 4 KDFW. Published June 14, 2021. Accessed June 23, 2021.
- Gooch K. New York-Presbyterian, Community Health Network among latest to require vaccinations for employees. Becker’s Hospital Review. Published June 14, 2021. Accessed June 23, 2021.
- Gooch K. Hospitals, health systems mandating vaccines for workers. Becker’s Hospital Review, Published June 17, 2021. Accessed June 23, 2021.