Hundreds say they are ready to walk out if Woman’s Hospital mandates Covid-19 vaccine

More than 200 employees at Woman’s Hospital say they will walk out on Dec. 5th because the hospital is following the federal CMS mandate that every employee must have the Covid-19 vaccine outside of any exemptions. Those employees say their walk out could impact the public when it comes to quality of care because years of experience may be walking out of the door and the public could have vaccinated healthcare professionals with little to no experience.

Medicare & Medicaid patients make up the majority of people who come into the hospital. It’s why Woman’s Hospital said they’re at a crossroads with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, or CMS, vaccine mandate otherwise they lose all funding.

Prior to the CMS mandate, Johnson said the hospital did not have any mandate in place requiring employees to get the Covid vaccine.  

Per the CMS mandate, employees must have the first shot of the vaccine by Dec. 5th. If they don’t, Woman’s Hospital will suspend employees without pay effective Dec. 5th. By Jan. 4, 2022, any employees who are not vaccinated will be terminated from Woman’s Hospital.

Numerous employees spoke to Unfiltered with Kiran on the basis of anonymity. The “anti-mandate group” said the number is now up to 218 members with 90% of those being nurses who have worked at the hospital for decades. The “anti-mandate group” started earlier this week. It’s already up to 218 and growing by the hour with members “at the point of no return.”

“It should be our choice whether or not we want this vaccine, not be forced or enticed to get it or be faced with the ultimatum of lose our jobs. We are willing to have Woman’s Hospital suspend or fire us because we will not get the vaccine to work at Woman’s Hospital,” said anonymous Woman’s Hospital employees.

Unfiltered with Kiran is choosing not to identify the nearly 15 sources who spoke out by the departments they work in or their titles at the risk of retaliation for speaking out. Each person broke down how specific departments will be impacted and what that means for the public when you need services at Woman’s Hospital if 200 plus employees walk out.

The group said in general, the hospital is already short on nurses and support staff in several different departments. Losing anymore at this point would be detrimental to quality of patient care. On some shifts and departments, the nursing staff could be cut in half.

“It will be more like fast food service, getting people in and out without real quality care. If Joe Blow’s wife is pregnant, comes to the hospital and she’s 10 weeks early, there may not be enough staff to provide adequate care, the care that Woman’s has been known for for fifty years. It will likely not happen if people walk because of every department that they come through, from the assessment center, mother baby to the OR to recovery. Every unit is going to be extremely impacted. Like they said, we are already short,” said members of the group.

Johnson said the hospital’s goal is to not lose a single employee. “I certainly hope we don’t have 200 people walk out because every employee is important to us and our organization. I don’t want to lose a single person. We offer a huge service to our community but we have to keep our doors open.”

The assessment center, which basically serves as the emergency room for Woman’s Hospital, could be slashed by nearly 20%. This department is Woman’s triage. It sees babies, men, women & anyone who walks in with any emergency needs. What makes this department unique is the doctors and nurses are cross trained in ER & labor delivery. Some are even trained in forensics because the hospital does perform rape kits.

“About 16-17 people in Assessment will walk including seven charge nurses. Each of the 16 people have a minimum of five years of experience, if not more. ” said a member of the group. They added training can take between 12-16 weeks for Assessment.

Currently in the NICU department, the baby to nurse ratio is about 3-4 babies per nurse, including one baby on a ventilator. The group said each shift has about 40 nurses. On the night shift alone, half of those nurses are prepared to walk out plus technicians. If that happens, the baby to nurse ratio could be 7-9 babies per nurse, with 3-4 of them possibly on ventilators.

“If a baby’s heart rate drops and we have seven babies, you can’t be everywhere together. The babies are quite critical. Nurses need to be in a room within 20 seconds. Not having someone to go to them immediately to revive or stimulate them to breathe on their own, that’s a matter of life or death. That is so unsafe. Healthcare, we’re supposed to follow guidelines for ratios. People are understanding to an extent but not when it’s out of standards. People are going to die. More people are going to die,” said an employee. 

Many said nurses are already working overtime. Despite the hospital paying incentives on top of overtime, they claim the hospital is still understaffed. “So even if a small amount of us walk, it’ll be detrimental to the infants.”

As for the labor delivery department, it’s usually a 1 to 1 ratio. Employees say that could change.

“Some women leave with a baby in their arms. Others leave with a box of memories. I don’t want to be responsible for more women leaving out with a box and if this happens, that’s what will happen,” said one employee. “The patients coming in lately are very high risk. When minutes matter, you have 7-9 minutes to get to an operating room. If you have no experience, then what happens? And to get to an operating room, you need an entire team, but some of those people are saying they’re walking. Your life is in their hands.”

“The experience they will lose is scary. Those 200 people who will be walking away are the skills of the hospital. The hospital would rather a vaccinated hospital with no experience over a non-vaccinated with plenty of experience. We are in a staffing crisis already and they can’t fulfill their needs,” said numerous members of the anti-mandate group. “That’s when mistakes happen, medicine isn’t given or wrong doses are given.”

It’s the same case for numerous other departments such as anesthesia, scanning and even security.

The security at Woman’s Hospital includes about 12 staff members. Unfiltered with Kiran is told nearly half of them will stand their ground and not get the vaccine. That means nearly a 50% reduction in the security staff.

“I have no words. Of course we don’t want that to happen. That’s not our intent. That’s why we are trying to do things to mitigate that like reaching out to agencies and planning on hiring people in advance of the deadline so we don’t have to change nurse patient ratios or have anything happen to our community,” said Johnson. “We have reached out to agencies to be able to provide us temporary staffing or even up to permanent staffing to be able to supplement staffing for what we might lose, attrition, to this mandate.”

According to the group and internal hospital emails leaked to Unfiltered with Kiran, Woman’s Hospital is giving up to $1,000 bonus to full-time employees if they get the vaccine.

“Employees who are fully vaccinated by Dec. 31 are eligible for the COVID-19 bonus of $1,000 for full-time employees, $750 for part-time employees and $500 for PRN and contract employees,” read an internal email to the staff.

“It’s coercion and enticing during a crucial holiday season when they know we most likely badly need the money, especially for those who are single parents,” said members of the group speaking out. “That’s enticing people to get the vaccine. No one else, no other hospital, that we know of, is doing this with the $1,000 bonus. We’ve seen $100 or maybe $500, but $1,000? Before this incentive, about 40% of the hospital’s entire staff was vaccinated. Now, we’re told up to 74% of all employees are vaccinated.”

Johnson confirmed the vaccination rate for the hospital as a whole is now up to 77%.

“It was really meant to be a thank you to those guys who have already received the vaccine,” said Johnson. She added the money was never meant to entice anyone and that the hospital announced the $1,000 bonus in October, before the CMS mandate was signed. “We ended up not losing money this year as an organization so we wanted to be able to reward those who did step out and take the vaccine. We knew that the mandate, the executive order was out there, but it wasn’t signed.”

Plus, many said co-workers who did go ahead and get the vaccine under the pretense that they would be able to put the $1,000 towards Christmas, realized that money was taxed after they got the vaccine. They added when the emails repeatedly say “Vaccine Bonuses,” they assumed it was the $1,000, $750, or $500 without any taxes. Instead, the $1,000 went down to nearly $600 after it was taxed.

“It’s income. That’s another federal and state mandate we have to tax,” said Johnson.

Woman’s Hospital is allowing eligible employees medical and religious exemptions but several group members said even the exemption forms are “outrageous.” Several area hospitals have religious exemption forms that are anywhere between one to three pages long. Woman’s Hospital’s religious exemption paperwork is five pages long. Their medical exemption form is two pages.

Johnson said Woman’s Hospital did not create the exemption paperwork. “This was a template that was provided by CMS,” said Johnson. She added the first two pages are mainly instructional. Johnson said the goal of the forms is to get all the information they need to make their decision. So far, Johnson said they have 60 exemption forms but they have not met yet to review the forms.

Johnson added an anonymous panel will review the exemptions. The panel will include people from the community as well as members from the hospital, but without bias towards the exemption.

“It’s a battle in your mind, but they have this form that’s trying to trick you into something that’s untrue so they can get you and not exempt you for religious exemption. The way they have it spilled out is not cut and dry and it’s just not okay trying to fill out that religious form,” said an employee.

Johnson responded to that quote saying, “It really wasn’t intended to trick anybody. That was never the intention. The intention was for us to follow the CMS rule.”

“Many of us are going to be leaning on religious exemption. I think it’s a combination of distrust in the development of this vaccine. We became extremely familiar with reading statistics and data and research. For the guarantees they’re giving us, it’s literally impossible in the timeframe this vaccine was created,” said another employee.

Even if employees qualify with their exemptions, the group says Woman’s is requiring weekly testing for Covid-19 starting in January 2022.

“We all feel discriminated because even if religious exemption is approved, we will be weekly tested. CMS doesn’t mandate weekly tests. Woman’s is mandating it. Vaccinated employees will not be tested. Patients and visitors don’t even have to be vaccinated. They’re not tested when they come to the hospital,” said a member of the anti-mandate group.

Johnson said on the weekly testing, their hands are basically tied because CMS says there has to be some kind of alternative for those who are exempt. She said the three options are weekly testing, don’t assign nurses or clinical staff to take care of patients, or socially distance. Johnson said the later two are almost impossible being a hospital that requires labor delivery assigned nurses and they can’t socially distance.

Unfiltered with Kiran pointed out that other hospitals like Baton Rouge General and Our Lady of the Lake are not requiring weekly testing for those who are exempt from the vaccine. Johnson said she won’t be surprised if others start testing weekly as well.  

Many of the employees who spoke out said they have been at Woman’s for years now, some even decades. They added they remember the days when there would be an opening at Woman’s Hospital and people would run to the bathroom to hurry up and apply for the job. Now though, some members of the anti-mandate group said they’re embarrassed to even say they work at Woman’s Hospital. Plus, many said the mandate is creating division among co-workers. All those who spoke out said they don’t feel appreciated at all now. They added they went from being heroes last year with Covid and now, they feel like they do not matter.

“We all have a license with the state board to do no harm,” said one employee.

“That makes me sad that they feel that way. I think we did have our bonus plan that the employees got and we had a $1,000 bonus that everybody got just for working through Covid. I think we have done our best in thanking them verbally and also financially by saying thank you for working through Covid,” said Johnson.

On Dec. 5th, employees who are not vaccinated will be suspended without pay. They will not be able to use any accrued sick or vacation time. However, Johnson said if anyone is fired, by law, that vacation and sick time is earned and they will be paid out.

In comparison, Baton Rouge General and Our Lady of the Lake hospitals said they are not providing any incentives for getting the vaccine. BRG said they too are following the CMS mandate, but prior to it, they did not have any mandate in place. The same Dec. 5th date applies to BRG.  

OLOL is requiring all team members to be vaccinated or have an exemption by Nov. 30th.   

BRG said 81% of their staff is vaccinated so far but that 650 employees could be on a leave of absence come Dec. 5th. The hospital is requiring people who do not want to get the vaccine to do a training online that takes a few hours. Their medical and religious exemptions are a page long each. So far, they have 150 exemptions that have already been approved.

“This is something that is well above this administration’s control. This mandate is well beyond our control. I know that they’re worried about what’s going to happen to the community if we don’t have staff here but what would happen to the community if we lose funding? We would have to close the doors and our community is not cared for in that scenario either. That’s the bottom line. If I can’t get the funding to keep the doors open, we’re not taking care of our patients,” said Johnson.

It appears the CMS mandate has left area hospitals between a rock and a hard place. It’s also why Attorney General Jeff Landry continues to fight the mandate. As of Nov. 18th, a federal judge expedited the date to have all briefs completed by for this case. The new date is now scheduled for Dec. 1st, ahead of the Dec. 5th deadline.

The attorney general’s office is hoping to have the case heard before the Dec. 5th deadline.

Between the nearly 220 employees at Woman’s Hospital, nearly 650 at BRG and countless others at area hospitals, nearly 1,000 healthcare professionals could be out of a job come Dec. 5th

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