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Fight over hospital’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate ends with 153 workers out of a job

Multistory glass-and-steel hospital.
Enlarge / Houston Methodist Hospital at the Texas Medical Center campus in Houston, Texas.

After staging weeks of protest and being called “reprehensible” by a federal judge, 153 workers of a Houston-based hospital system lost their jobs Tuesday for refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Houston Methodist hospital system had placed 178 employees on a two-week, unpaid suspension on June 7 for failing to meet the hospital system’s vaccination mandate, which it had set on April 1. The unpaid two-week suspension was essentially the employees’ last chance to get vaccinated before facing termination.

During that time, some of the workers “became compliant with the policy,” a hospital spokesperson told the Houston Chronicle Tuesday. But 153 did not and either quit during their suspension or were fired on Tuesday. Houston Methodist CEO Marc Boom had previously noted in a letter to employees that 27 of the 178 suspended workers had received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine going into the suspension.

The resignations and firings end weeks of public protest by the small group of workers who objected to the mandate, which was otherwise largely successful. According to numbers released by Boom, about 97 percent of the hospital’s nearly 26,000 employees are fully vaccinated, while about 2.4 percent received a valid exemption or were granted a deferral for pregnancy or other reasons.

Human subjects

Still, the minority fought back vigorously against the mandate. They staged protests outside hospital facilities, and 117 of the workers filed a lawsuit in federal court. The employees claimed that the mandate is unlawful and forced them to be “human subjects” in a clinical trial of an “unapproved drug.” Among their more startling claims, they alleged that the mandate violates the Nuremberg Code, a set of 10 ethics principles for conducting human trials written in response to Nazi atrocities. In making the claim, the hospital staff likened the vaccine requirement to horrifying medical experiments carried out in concentration camps during World War II.

US District Judge Lynn Hughes called the argument “reprehensible” and roundly rejected the hospital workers’ other claims. In a searing five-page ruling issued on June 12, Judge Hughes dismissed the case, writing that the workers included false claims, “misrepresented facts,” misconstrued laws, and otherwise provided invalid arguments in the case. He rejected the suggestion that hospital staff were human subjects in a trial and said that the hospital system’s leaders were merely “trying to do their business of saving lives without giving them the COVID-19 virus.”  He also noted that on May 28, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission determined that employers can mandate COVID-19 vaccination if they give reasonable accommodations.

The 117 employees, led by nurse Jennifer Bridges, have already appealed the dismissal to the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals.

Bridges, a nurse who had worked at the hospital for over six years and had worked in the coronavirus unit during the pandemic, told the Associated Press that she was fired Tuesday along with some of her like-minded colleagues.

“We all knew we were getting fired today,” Bridges told the AP. “We knew unless we took that shot to come back, we were getting fired today. There was no ifs, ands, or buts.”

She also told the AP that Tuesday was her first day at a new job with a company that will send her and other unvaccinated nurses into people’s homes to provide care.



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