Houston Nurse Crowdfunds to Take Hospital to Court Over Vaccine Layoffs
By Kenny Jones
Reporting Texas TV
HOUSTON, Texas — Several Houston Methodist Hospital employees are resisting their boss’s order to receive COVID-19 vaccines by June 7.
Dr. Marc Boom, Houston Methodist’s President and CEO, announced April 15 that all employees must comply with the vaccination deadline or face suspension and eventual termination.
“The process [to decide to require COVID-19 vaccines] was reminiscent of how we made the decision to become one of the first in the country to mandate the flu vaccine in 2009,” Boom wrote in an email to employees.
“Because science has proven that the COVID-19 vaccines are not only safe, but extremely effective, it became an easier decision to make.”
Boom said nearly 90% of Houston Methodist employees are in compliance with the vaccine mandate.
Jennifer Bridges, who works as a nurse at the hospital’s Baytown location, plans to receive a COVID-19 vaccine once the FDA issues full approval. The three vaccines currently in use have Emergency Use Approval (EUA).
When Bridges received Boom’s announcement, she said she witnessed panic at work among those who didn’t yet feel comfortable receiving the vaccine.
“I don’t know how [Dr. Boom] can sleep at night, knowing that there are people who have literally cried their eyes out before getting the shot because they don’t want it yet,” Bridges said.
“They don’t want it. They’re not comfortable, but they’re doing it solely to feed their family.”
Bridges said she held firm to her morals and circulated a written petition throughout the hospital, collecting over 100 signatures on her first day. She created an online petition, which had more than 6,000 signatures as of April 29.
The petition reads in part:
Many people feel it is too new and not enough time or research yet to be deemed perfectly safe… Many employees are scared that they will lose their job or be forced to inject the vaccine into their body against their will to keep their jobs and feed their family. We just want the power to choose for ourselves and not take this basic American right away from us!
Bridges created a GoFundMe page Wednesday that announced her plans to take Houston Methodist to court. She received more than $8,000 in the first 24 hours, with the largest donation at $1,000.
Valerie Guttman Koch, a law professor at the University of Houston, said she believes Houston Methodist’s employee vaccination mandate is legally defensible, and that similar mandates have been issued during bad influenza seasons.
“If certain bills currently being considered by the [Texas] legislature become law, employer-mandated vaccination could become illegal in the state of Texas (although such a law could also be challenged),” Guttman Koch said.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced in December that employers may ensure “an individual shall not pose a direct threat to the health or safety of individuals in the workplace.”
Guttman Koch said the EEOC directives can include vaccination requirements for a company’s employees.
The Houston Methodist CEO stands by his decision.
“The bottom line is these vaccines are safe. They are the right thing to do,” Boom said.
“In a health care environment like Houston Methodist where we care for vulnerable patients, it is our sacred obligation to keep our patients safe. Vaccinations are a key part of that,” he said.
“I don’t know how I could or other people could sleep at night knowing they hadn’t taken every action to protect the patients that they are swearing to serve, They undertake the sacred obligation to care for those patients, knowing they may have unwittingly given somebody COVID because they didn’t get a vaccination that results in their severe illness or even death.”
Benjamin Gregg, a University of Texas bioethics and human rights professor, said there are two sides to the human rights perspective: the right not to be harmed and the right not to harm others.
“These folks are more than ethically unprofessional,” Gregg said.
“They are actively harming other people, and they are in an environment in which the information is available. Therefore their rejection of that information is perverse in the extreme.”
Bridges said she will continue to show up to her hospital shifts while she continues to fight. If she loses her job, she said she is willing to find a job elsewhere to stay loyal to her morals and beliefs.
“I’m sure a lot of medical companies might look at me as a troublemaker,” she said.
“I hope they look at me more as a strong willed advocate that’s not scared to do the right thing, because me personally, I’d rather have a nurse like that than someone who’s too scared.”