How do patients feel about vaccine mandates for hospital staff?

AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov

More than one hundred people gathered outside Houston Methodist Hospital Saturday morning to protest the hospital’s mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy for all employees. The hospital made good on its threat that those who didn’t meet the deadline to be vaccinated would be fired. Last week it was reported that 153 employees were fired or resigned in response to the mandate. Alex Jones was rumored to be in attendance but he was a no-show.

Former Houston Methodist nurse Jennifer Bridges organized disgruntled employees to walk-out on June 7, the deadline for employees to be vaccinated. The mandate remained in place. Bridges and other staffers are involved in a lawsuit against the hospital. A federal judge sided with the hospital and that decision is being appealed.

That’s the history of the battle between the hospital and its employees over the COVID-19 vaccination mandate. What do the hospital’s patients think about the whole situation? The hospital employs about 26,000 employees. CEO Marc Bloom says that 99% of the employees received the vaccines by the deadline. Do patients feel more confident in receiving care at Houston Methodist because of the mandate or do they not really care about it? Their reactions are mixed. Most appreciate knowing that the employees are vaccinated. The issue of firing employees over the mandate is something that some patients hesitated to support.

Patients interviewed Wednesday had mixed feelings about requiring COVID-19 shots. Dimeen Cottrell says while she feels safer knowing the entire hospital staff is vaccinated, she thinks “firing them was inappropriate.”

Instead, she thinks the hospital should have warned patients about unvaccinated staff members. Cottrell lives in Cleveland, Ohio, but is enrolled in a traumatic brain injury trial study at the hospital, for which she visited the campus on Wednesday.

“You’re not going to protect your employees by firing them,” she said. “It’s not like they’ll run out and get it now.”

Employees aren’t the only consideration for the hospital, though. The hospital’s top concern is its patients and the care they receive. Also, the mandate did spur on employees who were hesitant to get vaccinated to do so.

The mandate did, however, push some employees over the finish line. Just 84 percent of workers had been vaccinated by April. By June, the rate was nearly 99 percent, said Roberta Schwartz, executive vice president of Houston Methodist Hospital.

Of the 178 employees suspended by Houston Methodist, 25 — or 14 percent — received their full COVID-19 vaccine or applied for an exemption and kept their jobs, she said.

“By the time we got to the day where people were let go, it had caused people to go out and get the vaccine,” Schwartz said.

Houston Methodist Hospital system is a world-class system and a major part of the Houston Medical Center. Patients expect quality health care. According to the medical director of critical care, patients want to know about the vaccine status of staff and he agrees that the policy is the way back to normal for the hospital.

Dr. Faisal Masud, medical director of critical care at Houston Methodist, said he and his staff are inundated with questions about their vaccination statuses from patients, family and friends.

Masud has received messages and calls from family in Canada about why the hospital was requiring a vaccine. Physician peers across the U.S. have also asked how the hospital came to that decision.

“They’re asking why and how we’re doing this,” Masud said. “The why is very easy. The how is that we are fortunate enough to live in a country where we have access to vaccines. Please ask people around the world who can’t even get vaccines. ‘Why’ is easy because why would I not do it?”

You may be interested to know that nurse Jennifer Bridges has found employment elsewhere. She and some of the others fired by the hospital now say they have no plans to get the vaccination at all. She says she has seen “way too many adverse reactions and (talking) to people where their family had loved ones who died” after receiving a shot. That sounds like an exaggeration since the CDC statistics don’t back up that measure of alarm. In January, for example, 11 out of 1 million people vaccinated had an anaphylactic reaction to the shot. As with any medicine, there is risk of a reaction but the COVID-19 vaccines have been relatively well-received. The current reports of heart inflammations in young people are pause for concern, though.

Most people refusing the vaccines say they are not anti-vaxxers, just cautious because of the speed at which the vaccines were developed and granted emergency use approval. Meanwhile, most hospital patients are appreciative of knowing those caring for them are vaccinated.

Yes, politics plays a part in the discussion. The former employees protesting on Saturday are also angry with Saint Anthony. Fauci isn’t their favorite person.

Much of the rally, however, was political in nature, with speakers and signs lambasting Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the Biden Administration.

Danita Bratton, Yolunda Milton’s sister, said she didn’t agree with most of the political messaging but said the choice on whether to get vaccinated should lie with individuals — not their employers.

“It shouldn’t be about politics,” she said. “I have family members that have taken it, and I have nothing against that. I just don’t feel you should be made to take it.”

This story isn’t over. If the appeal to the federal judge’s ruling in favor of the hospital fails, the plaintiffs vow to continue all the way to the Supreme Court.