Houston Methodist suspended 178 workers for failing to get fully vaccinated by the deadline set by the health system, the CEO said Tuesday.
In a letter to all employees and physicians, CEO Marc Boom said the 178 workers will be suspended without pay for two weeks, giving them another chance to either get the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or a single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. In April, Boom told employees that COVID-19 vaccines would be mandatory, and those who did not comply would face termination.
"The small percentage of employees who did not comply with the policy are now suspended without pay for the next 14 days," Boom said. "I wish the number could be zero, but unfortunately, a small number of individuals have decided not to put their patients first."
As of Tuesday, 24,947 Houston Methodist employees — nearly 100% — had been fully vaccinated, Boom said. Of the 178 suspended, 27 had received one dose of the vaccine. Another 285 received a medical or religious exemption, and 332 were granted deferrals for pregnancy and other reasons, Boom told employees. Some of the affected employees protested the system's mandate Monday, the deadline set for workers to have become fully vaccinated, the New York Times reported.
"While we celebrate this remarkable accomplishment, I know that today may be difficult for some who are sad about losing a colleague who's decided to not get vaccinated. We only wish them well and thank them for their past service to our community, and we must respect the decision they made," Boom said. "Since I announced this mandate in April, Houston Methodist has been challenged by the media, some outspoken employees and even sued. As the first hospital system to mandate COVID-19 vaccines we were prepared for this. The criticism is sometimes the price we pay for leading medicine."
The health system was sued in late May by 117 employees over the vaccine mandate. In the complaint, employees alleged that "Methodist Hospital is forcing its employees to be human 'guinea pigs' as a condition for continued employment" and is violating the Nuremberg Code, which prohibits human experimentation without consent. At that time, Boom said 99% of the hospital's 26,000 employees already had been vaccinated.
The complaint which was filed in the District Court of Montgomery County in Texas, alleged that employers can't mandate vaccines that haven't yet received FDA approval, calling the vaccines "experimental." The COVID-19 vaccines only have received emergency use authorization.
On May 28, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission updated its COVID-19 guidance to clarify that an employer can require employees to be vaccinated for COVID-19 to enter a physical workplace, as long as accommodations are made for those who can't get vaccinated for medical or religious reasons.
Houston Methodist is one of a small number of healthcare providers that are mandating the COVID-19 vaccine for workers. In mid-May, the University of Pennsylvania Health System announced that all employees and clinical staff would be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Sept. 1. Starting July 1, Penn Medicine also will require all new hires to be vaccinated before starting work.