A hospital in Houston said it could fire staff if they refuse to get the COVID-19 vaccine, making it potentially the first large US hospital to take such action

Vaccine
Nurse Robert Orallo administers the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine in Alaska.

  • Houston Methodist Hospital is mandating COVID-19 vaccines for its 26,000 employees.
  • Managers have until mid-April to get their first shot, otherwise they could be fired.
  • The hospital said that the policy is legal under state and federal employment law.
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A hospital in Houston is mandating vaccines for all its staff, saying they could be fired if they refuse to get the jab without having reasonable exemptions.

This could make it the first large hospital in the US to make the move, a spokesperson for the hospital told Bloomberg.

Marc Boom, CEO of Houston Methodist Hospital, announced the policy in an email to managers Wednesday.

It is rolling out the policy to managers and new hires first, before expanding it to the hospital’s roughly 26,000 total workforce, per an FAQ sheet attached to the email.

“As part of Houston Methodist management, we must lead by example and get vaccinated ourselves,” Boom wrote in the email, per Click2Houston.

Read more: Here’s the simple 5-step COVID-19 questionnaire Wells Fargo is using to decide if it’s safe for employees to enter the office

He said that around 83% of employees have already been vaccinated, including 95% of management staff and all the company’s executives.

“As we move closer to announcing mandatory vaccinations for all employees, we need you to go first – to lead by example and show our employees how important getting vaccinated is,” Boom told managers.

He said that managers have until April 15 to receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

“If not, we will follow HR policy on non-compliance,” he added.

The FAQ sheet said that staff would lose their jobs if they didn’t get the jab, but that the hospital would allow religious and medical exemptions “in very rare cases.”

“We don’t know yet if a booster [shot] will be required annually but if it is, that will also be mandatory,” the hospital wrote in the FAQ sheet.

Boom said that managers would soon receive a list of all the employees they manage who haven’t yet received a dose of the vaccine.

Staff vaccine mandates are legal, and CEOs are eyeing them up

As the vaccine rollout ramps up across the US, with President Joe Biden eyeing May 1 as the day all US adults will become eligible for the shot, some employers are mulling making COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for staff.

Houston Methodist Hospital said it is legal for private companies under state and federal employment laws.

This is backed up by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which says employers can legally require workers to get a COVID-19 vaccine or ban them from the office if they don’t. Insider spoke to six labor and employment lawyers about what rights employees have.

In a West Munroe poll of 150 C-Suite executives in January, 51% of executives said they would require employees to receive the vaccine before returning to work. Executives from East and West Coast companies said they were more likely to mandate the vaccine than employers in the Midwest and south.

Some top UK firms also plan to make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for staff through “no jab, no job” employment contracts, Insider’s Kate Duffy reported.

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A new coronavirus variant has been tied to at least 90 infections in a deadly outbreak at a medical center in San Jose, California

los angeles california coronavirus hospital
Co-director of the intensive care unit at CommonSpirit’s Dignity Health-California Hospital Medical Center, Dr. Zafia Anklesaria, attends to a COVID-19 patient in the hospital where she works in Los Angeles, California on May 18, 2020.

  • A new coronavirus variant is linked to a deadly COVID-19 outbreak at Kaiser Permanente San Jose Medical Center. The outbreak has resulted in at least 90 infections and one death. 
  • The variant called L452R was discovered in other countries and states last year. 
  • It’s different than another, more transmissible variant that was initially discovered in the UK. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

A new coronavirus variant has been linked to multiple outbreaks in Santa Clara County, located southeast of San Francisco. One of the outbreaks has led to at least 90 infections and one death at the Kaiser Permanente medical center in San Jose, public health officials said. 

The variant known as L452R has been discovered in other states and countries, but is now spreading rapidly through California. It’s different than the B.1.1.7 variant, which was first found in the UK. 

“The fact that this variant was identified in several large outbreaks in our county is a red flag and must be investigated further,” Santa Clara County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said in a statement. “This virus continues to mutate and adapt, and we cannot let down our guard.”

California is working with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, local public health departments, and laboratory sequencing partners to learn more about the variant and how it spreads, according to the joint statement from the California Department of Public Health, Santa Clara County, and the University of California San Francisco.

Read also: Biden’s incoming chief of staff says the administration is prepared to tackle the ‘huge mess’ it’s inheriting in COVID-19 vaccine rollout

“It’s too soon to know if this variant will spread more rapidly than others, but it certainly reinforces the need for all Californians to wear masks and reduce mixing with people outside their immediate households to help slow the spread of the virus,” Dr. Erica Pan, state epidemiologist for the CDPH, said.

The statement said the variant was linked to the Kaiser Permanente outbreak, which resulted in the death of one staff member. County health officials have fined the medical center $43,000 for alleged delays in reporting cases, NBC reported. The facility denied the delay. 

The cases are believed to be tied to an employee who wore an inflatable costume on Christmas to cheer patients up. The fan on the “air-powered costume” could have spread droplets to 77 staff members and 15 patients. 

This variant has been found in several other counties, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, however, how prevalent it is across the state or country is not yet known since genomic sequencing is not done equally across the state.

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A praying 82-year-old COVID-19 patient was beaten to death by another patient with an oxygen tank, police say

hospital coronavirus
The incident occurred in Antelope Valley Hospital (not pictured) in Lancaster, California, on December 17.

  • The police in California arrested a man accused of killing an 82-year-old patient being treated for COVID-19 in a hospital on December 17.
  • Jesse Martinez, 37, was arrested and charged with murder, hate-crime enhancement, and elder abuse, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said this week.
  • Detectives said Martinez became enraged when the man started to pray. They said Martinez, who shared the hospital room with the man, then attacked him with an oxygen tank.
  • The investigation is ongoing, the department said.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The police in California are investigating the death of a man in a hospital who they say was struck by another patient wielding an oxygen tank.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said this week Jesse Martinez, 37, struck an 82-year-old Hispanic man who was being treated for COVID-19 in the same room in the Antelope Valley Hospital in Lancaster on December 17.

Martinez was charged with murder, hate-crime enhancement, and elder abuse, the department said. He is expected to appear in court in Antelope Valley on Monday.

Detectives said that Martinez became enraged when the man started to pray, then attacked the man with an oxygen tank. The man was pronounced dead the next day.

The two men did not know each other, the department said.

Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris told the Los Angeles Times in a statement that he was “shocked and saddened” to hear of the man’s death.

The investigation is ongoing, the department said.

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An Arizona ER doctor who was fired for posting about COVID-19 on Twitter says healthcare workers need more protections

cleavon
Gilman, an Iraq War veteran, has been a very vocal figure throughout the pandemic.

  • An emergency-medicine doctor in Arizona said he was fired from his position at Yuma Regional Medical Center over posts he made on social media about the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Dr. Cleavon Gilman, an Iraq War veteran, was dismissed from his job after tweeting about Arizona running low on available ICU beds.
  • He told Business Insider doctors everywhere are afraid to speak out about their experiences during the pandemic for fear of retribution, and that healthcare workers generally need more protections.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

An emergency-medicine doctor in Arizona said he was fired from his position at Yuma Regional Medical Center over posts he made on social media about the COVID-19 pandemic.

In viral tweets from November 22, Dr. Cleavon Gilman wrote that, when he arrived at work that day, he learned there were no available ICU beds left in Arizona. He also tagged Gov. Doug Ducey in the thread and asked, “what are you going to do?”

Gilman told Business Insider that the next day he was asked not to return to the hospital and that the staffing agency he works for told him it was due to his tweets.

“It’s just like a slap in the face,” he said. “America needs ER doctors, and here you have a champion for the people who is being side-lined when his services are needed on the front lines.”

Gilman, an Iraq War veteran, has been a very vocal figure throughout the pandemic. He has been featured in major news publications, including Business Insider, speaking about the experience of healthcare workers during this time.

After working in New York City during the initial COVID-19 surge last spring, he moved to Yuma, Arizona in the summer to work at the only hospital in the area. He said after he was dismissed, he never heard directly from anyone at the hospital about the decision.

“It’s an insult when you move your whole family to a place,” he said, “and you get a call one day that you can’t return back to work.”

Yuma Regional Medical Center did not respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.

Gilman said his tweets were not about the hospital, but about the surge in Arizona and what he describes as the war-like experiences frontline workers are currently facing amid the pandemic. He said his goal was to prompt change.

“My whole point is to target policy. We need to mandate masks, close indoor dining,” he said. “We need to take a hardline approach because cases are going up everyday in Arizona and the hospitals are at capacity.”

He also said the general public deserves to hear the truth directly from healthcare workers.

But doctors across the country are afraid to speak out about their experiences with COVID-19, Gilman said. He said many are being suppressed by their hospitals and are being silenced out of fear of retribution.

“We need to be protected as healthcare providers,” he said. “This cannot be the standard for which ER doctors are terminated.”

The American Academy of Emergency Medicine has been a proponent of increasing protections as well. The nonprofit association worked closely with lawmakers to introduce a bipartisan bill that would protect the due process rights of emergency physicians.

The bill is meant to provide protection to doctors who are not directly employed by the hospitals they are working at but by physician staffing companies, an increasingly common situation.

“Unfortunately, federal law has not been updated to reflect these changes in the industry and due process rights are not guaranteed to physicians who are not directly employed by the hospital,” Reps. Roger Marshall and Raul Ruiz, cosponsors of the bill, said in a statement earlier this year.

They said the legislation would protect ER physicians who are employed by a third-party contractor or company.

Gilman said, after what has happened to him, it is clear the bill is sorely needed for medical professionals across disciplines.

“I would advise all specialties to also try to pass similar legislation as well,” he said. “I can’t be an Iraq War veteran, ER doctor, on the frontlines of the pandemic where 3,000 people are dying a day, and getting fired over a tweet about ICU beds.”

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