Hospitals’ COVID-19 vaccine mandate causes some employees to sue

Houston Methodist hospital system’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate has resulted in over 99% compliance, but some employees are suing.

Jasper Colt, USA TODAY

Six supervisory employees of RWJBarnabas Health, one of the largest health care systems in New Jersey lost their jobs because they did not get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Now the hospital system says it will expand its vaccine mandate from supervisory-level employees to “all staff and physicians.” It employs more than 35,000 people, with 9,000 affiliated doctors. Plans are to be announced in the coming days.

Those in a supervisory role and higher had until June 30 to comply with the May mandate, unless they obtained a medical or religious exemption or a deferral.

Two weeks after that deadline, 99.7% of eligible employees — 2,979 — were fully vaccinated or had obtained the necessary exemption, the health system said in a statement.

“Regrettably, six staff at the supervisor level and above have not complied with the mandate and are no longer employees,” the statement read. 

Hospital staffers were first in line to get the vaccines when they were authorized in December, and many facilities delivered their first shots into arms with great fanfare. While the majority of employees at most hospitals have been vaccinated, holdouts remain. 

In the weeks after full vaccination with a second dose, the number of new staff cases reported in New Jersey’s 71 hospitals dropped steeply, from a high of 162 on Jan. 5 to  two on July 11.  

“We have an ethical and professional responsibility to protect our patients and ensure a safe, COVID-19 free environment,” RWJBarnabas said when it announced its mandate. 

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RWJBarnabas was the first health system in New Jersey to require vaccinations as a condition of employment for some, and since then others have followed.

Last week, Hackensack Meridian Health gave its 35,000 employees a deadline of Nov. 15 to get vaccinated against COVID. The decision affects unvaccinated workers at its 17 hospitals and 500 other medical facilities.

The staff at Virtua Health, South Jersey’s largest health system,  likewise has until Sept. 15 to get vaccinated.  

“Those who choose not to be vaccinated by the deadline, and do not have an approved medical or religious exemption, will have their employment terminated,” a Virtua spokesman said. Virtua has more than 14,000 employees at five hospitals, two satellite emergency departments and hundreds of outpatient offices and facilities.

Last year, more than 1,000 RWJBarnabas employees became ill with COVID and nine died, according to a lawsuit filed by the health system against its insurance carrier. Throughout the state, more than 260 health care workers are known to have died in the pandemic.

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Lindy Washburn is a senior health care reporter for Email: 

Twitter: @lindywa 

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