June 23, 2021 — More than 150 hospital workers at Houston Methodist were fired or resigned on Tuesday after refusing to follow a policy that requires employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
The hospital system required its 26,000 workers to get vaccinated or receive an exemption by June 7. Among those, 178 employees refused to get a shot and were placed on a 2-week suspension. On Tuesday, 153 were fired or had resigned, The Associated Press reported.
Workers who received a vaccine during the suspension period were allowed to return to work. The hospital didn’t specify how many workers met the policy and returned to work, according to The New York Times.
Jennifer Bridges, a registered nurse who has led the pushback against the policy, told the AP that her director called on Tuesday to ask if she received the vaccine. She replied, “absolutely not” and was terminated.
“We all knew we were getting fired today,” she told the AP. “We knew unless we took that shot to come back, we were getting fired today.”
As the policy deadline approached this month, Bridges and dozens of other employees protested outside of the hospital and said they wouldn’t get a vaccine. In addition, she and 116 other employees filed a lawsuit against the policy, claiming that the hospital was “forcing its employees to be human ‘guinea pigs’ as a condition for continued employment.”
On June 12, the lawsuit was dismissed in a district court in Texas. U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes said the vaccine requirement didn’t break federal laws. He also denounced the comparison of the policy to medical experiments done in Nazi concentration camps during World War II.
“The hospital’s employees are not participants in a human trial,” Hughes wrote in the ruling. “They are licensed doctors, nurses, medical technicians, and staff members.”
Hughes wrote that the policy is part of the job, and if employees don’t want to follow the requirement, they can work elsewhere. Those who filed the lawsuit have already appealed to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the AP reported.
“I’m hoping if we win this at a federal level, then they’re going to create laws to protect employees from having to go through this anywhere else in the country,” Bridges told the AP.
Legal and medical ethics experts have said the COVID-19 vaccine requirement is like other mandates for health care workers, such as receiving a flu shot or other required vaccines, The New York Times reported. The requirements will likely be upheld in court if employers provide exemptions for medical conditions or religious objections.
“Health care workers have three special ethical responsibilities,” Arthur Caplan, PhD, a medical ethicist at the New York University School of Medicine, told the newspaper.
“One is to protect the vulnerable, people who are really at risk of a disease,” he said. “Secondly, put patient interests first. It doesn’t say, ‘put your choice first.’ Third, they’re supposed to do no harm.”