How Houston Methodist workers, patients responded to firings over vaccine mandate

The Houston Chronicle recently spoke with patients and workers at Houston Methodist after 153 employees resigned during a two-week suspension period or were terminated June 22 for not complying with the health system's COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

Opinions among patients and workers were mixed. Some patients and workers indicated concerns about the extent of the mandate, but also indicated they were pleased from a safety standpoint that employees in the health system are vaccinated, the newspaper said.

The employees who resigned or were fired are part of a group of 178 workers who were suspended because they did not get fully vaccinated or were not granted an exemption or deferral. Spokesperson Gale Smith said June 23 that employees who complied during the suspension period returned to work the day after they became compliant.

Houston Methodist rolled out its mandatory vaccination policy March 31, with April 15 as the deadline for managers to receive at least one dose or get an exemption. More than 99 percent of the management team had complied by that deadline. By June 7, all 26,000 employees were required to comply. Those who did not comply were suspended for two weeks. Houston Methodist said if workers failed to comply in two weeks, it would "initiate the employee termination process," according to The New York Times.

Dimeen Cottrell, a patient interviewed June 23 by the Houston Chronicle, told the newspaper she feels safer knowing employees are vaccinated, but she thinks "firing them was inappropriate." She said instead patients should have been warned about workers who were not vaccinated.

"You're not going to protect your employees by firing them," she told the newspaper. "It's not like they'll run out and get it now."

Roberta Schwartz, executive vice president of Houston Methodist Hospital, told the Houston Chronicle that the mandate did result in an increased vaccination rate among employees — 84 percent of workers were vaccinated by April and nearly 99 percent were by June.

Still, some former workers who previously said they planned to wait until a vaccine had full FDA approval now say they do not plan to get inoculated, according to the report.

One former employee, Jennifer Bridges, RN, who worked at Houston Methodist Baytown and was the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit over the mandate, is among those who still have no plans to get vaccinated.

Ms. Bridges and 116 other workers sued over the mandate, arguing that it is illegal and forces workers to get an experimental vaccine to keep their jobs.

But U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes ruled June 12 that the health system did not violate state or federal law or public policy with its requirement. That decision has been appealed

According to the Houston Chronicle, Ms. Bridges, who began a new job with a private home healthcare company, said she is prepared to continue a legal fight over the issue.

Read the full article here

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