Ochsner Health temporarily stopped from suspending some workers over vaccination mandate

An appeals court in Shreveport, La., has temporarily blocked New Orleans-based Ochsner Health from suspending some workers because of their COVID-19 vaccination status, according to NOLA.com.

The Louisiana Second Circuit Court of Appeal issued the decision Oct. 28, one day before Ochsner's deadline for employees who don't have an exemption or deferral to be vaccinated as a condition of employment. Ochsner announced a vaccination requirement policy in August, and most of the health system's 32,000 employees have taken one of the vaccines or otherwise complied with the requirement.

But about 40 employees on Oct. 5 sued Ochsner LSU Health Shreveport and Ochsner LSU Health Shreveport St. Mary to block the system's mandate. The lawsuit, among other things, claims Louisiana's Constitution and laws allow residents to decide their own medical treatments.

A lower-court judge dismissed the complaint, but the appeals court said Oct. 28 that the workers should be granted a hearing and Ochsner may not fire or discipline employees in north Louisiana for noncompliance while the temporary restraining order is in place, according to NOLA.com. Workers who filed the lawsuit include 20 registered nurses, four surgical technicians and a physician, a nurse practitioner, a respiratory therapist, a licensed practical nurse, a child life specialist and several others.

Ochsner workers in Monroe, La., and Lafayette, La., also filed lawsuits over the health system's mandate.

Judge Thomas Frederick dismissed a lawsuit filed Sept. 20 in the 15th Judicial District Court in Lafayette by employees of Ochsner Lafayette (La.) General Medical Center. Additionally, the Fourth Judicial District Court in Monroe ruled that a complaint against Ochsner LSU Monroe had no legal basis, according to NOLA.com, which cited the Oct. 27 ruling.

Attorney Jimmy Faircloth, who has filed several lawsuits on behalf of employees in Louisiana, told NOLA.com that the temporary restraining order in Shreveport is encouraging because to get such an order, "you must convince the court when you file something that you have a substantial likelihood of success. This very important issue is a resounding wake-up call to all the employers in the state that have been hoodwinked into believing that you can do this."

In an Oct. 30 statement shared with Becker's, Ochsner Health President and CEO Warner Thomas re-iterated the importance of the mandate and addresses the lawsuit in Shreveport.

"Not only is this policy the right thing to do for our patients and employees, [but] it is clear that employers have the right to implement vaccine mandates," said Mr. Thomas. "This policy is in line with the anticipated federal requirement for COVID-19 vaccination of staff within all Medicare and Medicaid-certified facilities announced Sept. 9.  We anticipate guidance from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services on this any day."

Regarding the lawsuits, Mr. Thomas said the district courts in Shreveport and Monroe "followed established law dismissing the cases," and the appeals court decision in Shreveport "was both surprising and disappointing."

"This ruling is inconsistent with established Louisiana law as well as with decisions of courts across the country upholding COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Ochsner Health intends to appeal to the Louisiana Supreme Court and is confident we will prevail," he added.

Meanwhile, Ochsner Health said it is deferring the health system's compliance deadline for all Ochsner LSU Health employees across facilities in Shreveport and Monroe until the issue is settled. Mr. Thomas said this includes deferring the requirement for unvaccinated employees to get tested weekly starting Nov. 1.

The system is continuing its employee vaccination policy timeline as planned at its other facilities. Workers who do not comply with Ochsner Health's vaccination policy will be suspended. Those who are still not in compliance after the 30-day suspension period will face termination.

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