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(HOUSTON) — A Texas hospital has suspended 178 staff members who refused to get the COVID-19 vaccine despite a mandate for staff to be inoculated by this week.
Houston Methodist hospital, which oversees eight hospitals and has more than 26,000 employees, set a Monday deadline for staffers to get the vaccine or risk suspension and termination.
The hospital said Tuesday that 178 full-time or part-time employees, who did not get fully vaccinated and were not granted an exemption or deferral, were suspended for 14 days without pay for not complying with the requirement.
If those suspended do not get vaccinated within the two-week period, they will be terminated, a spokesperson for the hospital told ABC News.
Dr. Marc Boom, the president and CEO of Houston Methodist said in a statement nearly 100% of the hospitals staff was compliant with the mandate and 24,947 were fully vaccinated.
He said of suspended employees, 27 had received one dose of the vaccine, “so I am hopeful they will get their second doses soon.”
“We won’t have the final numbers for two weeks as employees can still get vaccinated with their second dose or with the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine,” Boom said. “I wish the number could be zero, but unfortunately, a small number of individuals have decided not to put their patients first.”
Of all employees, 285 received a medical or religious exemption, and 332 were granted deferrals for pregnancy and other reasons, he said.
“This decision was ultimately made for our patients, as they are at the center of everything we do at Houston Methodist,” he said in the statement.
Last month, 117 Houston Methodist employees sued the hospital for mandating the vaccine. The lawsuit, filed in Montgomery County, alleged the hospital was “illegally requiring its employees to be injected with an experimental vaccine as a condition of employment.”
The lawsuit cited that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued its first emergency use authorization for COVID-19 in December 2020, but the vaccines are awaiting full FDA approval and licensing, which will likely take months for the agency to review additional data.
The lawsuit said forcing the plaintiffs to take the vaccine violates public policy in Texas and requested a temporary injunction to prevent the hospital from terminating employees.
Attorney Jared Woodfill, who filed the lawsuit, told ABC News last month that Houston Methodist is forcing employees to get the shot to boost the hospital’s profits.
“To promote its business and increase profits at the expense of other health care providers and their employees’ health, Defendants advertise to the public that they ‘require all employees and employed physicians to get a COVID-19 vaccine.’ More clearly, Defendants’ employees are being forced to serve as human ‘guinea pigs’ to increase Defendants’ profits,” Woodfill said. “It is a severe and blatant violation of the Nuremberg Code and the public policy of the state of Texas.”
The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, a federal government agency that protects workers from discrimination, issued a new guidance last month that said employers can legally require COVID-19 vaccines to re-enter a physical workplace as long as they follow requirements to find alternative arrangements for employees unable to get vaccinated for medical reasons or religious beliefs.
Some of those accommodations may be allowing an unvaccinated employee to wear a face mask and social distance while at work, to work a modified shift, get periodic tests for COVID-19, be given the opportunity to telework or accept a reassignment, according to the guidance.
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