Houston Methodist Hospital became the first health network in the country to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for all staff members, but a group of nurses has been pushing back against the requirement. They’ve been collecting signatures and attracting anti-vaxxers to their cause, but the hospital has the final say. This week, dozens of nurses said goodbye to the health network with plenty of lingering resentment to go around.
Walking Out for Refusing the Shot
We recently wrote about Jennifer Bridges, a nurse at Houston Methodist who’s become the face of the anti-vaccine requirement campaign. According to the hospital’s HR policy, all staff must be vaccinated by June 7th. Several nurses still were unvaccinated by the deadline. They are now suspended for two weeks without pay. They will then be terminated at the end of the two weeks if they refuse to comply with the policy.
Now that the deadline has come and gone, many nurses are packing their bags in search of a new place to work. A demonstration was held at the Houston Methodist Baytown campus this week. A small group of protesters cheered on the nurses as they finished their last shifts at the hospital.
However, Bridges says the plan to hold a walkout didn’t go as planned. Nurses were asked not to congregate or linger on the hospital grounds, but there were still plenty of people on hand to commemorate the sad occasion.
“We support their right to choose,” said Betsy Larsen, a retired Houston Methodist nurse.
Bridges and some of her colleagues say they don’t want to take the vaccine because it hasn’t received full authorization from the FDA, just emergency approval. But now they’re out of a job.
“I cried the whole way out. We’re all suspended right now,” said Bridges. “We’re supposed to meet with a federal judge this week so he can choose to let us go back to work.”
While the vast majority of the hospital’s staff has been vaccinated, 117 nurses have joined a class action lawsuit asking the court to intervene by preventing the health network from firing its employees. But the law isn’t exactly on their side.
Hospital CEO Mark Boom said the health system has the right to mandate vaccines for all employees. The hospital released a statement on the day of the vaccine deadline:
“We are proud to report that almost 100 percent of our 26,000 employees have complied, making the right decision to fulfill their sacred obligation to protect our patients. Unfortunately, a few employees have not met the vaccine requirements and are inviting other employees to join them as they end their shifts today.”
“We fully support the right of our employees to peacefully gather on their own time, but it is unacceptable to even suggest they abandon their patients to participate in this activity. We have faith that our employees will continue putting our patients first. It is unfortunate that today’s milestone of Houston Methodist becoming the safest hospital system in the country is being overshadowed by a few disgruntled employees.”
Disgruntled or Cautious?
Bridges says she’s ready to look for another job if the court doesn’t prevent the hospital from firing the nurses. “If I have to eat ramen noodles for two months, I don’t care because my health, my family is more important than money and this job,” she said.
Kara Shepherd, a labor and delivery nurse, is in the same boat. She worked her last shift at the hospital on Saturday. “All last year, through the COVID pandemic, we came to work and did our jobs. We did what we were asked. This year, we’re basically told we’re disposable,” she said.
Shepard and some of her colleagues say the walk out is about protecting their health. “We’ve done our research. We’re doing what’s right for ourselves and our families. He can call us disgruntled, but in my opinion, I think we have a very good reason,” she added.
Amanda Rivera, another employee, hasn’t joined the lawsuit, but walked out of the hospital on Monday. “I feel betrayed a little bit. I worked in the ER. It was crazy during the pandemic. We were short-staffed. The hospital was over capacity with patients. It was just a lot. Now for them to come and do this is like a slap in the face. That’s how I felt,” Rivera said.
“I feel like they kind of bullied us into this little corner,” another nurse said.
Everyone should decide for themselves whether they want to get the vaccine, but employers have just as much of a right to mandate health requirements for their employees. If you’re thinking of refusing the shot, just remember you may be out of a job.