Mass General Brigham Can Fire More Than 2,000 Workers For Refusing Coronavirus Vaccine, Judge Says

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More than 2,000 people employed by Mass General Brigham might not have a job as of Friday.

That’s because a federal judge has denied a preliminary injunction in a case challenging the Mass General Brigham coronavirus vaccine mandate’s medical and religious exemptions.

Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV said the hospital corporation is within its right to use its best judgement to decide who can and cannot get a religious exemption or medical exemption when it comes to the vaccine; he said it’s in the hospital’s best interest to have as many people vaccinated as possible, given the nature of the profession.

“It is clear to me that this is a highly contagious disease in which millions of people worldwide have died,” Saylor said during a court hearing Thursday, November 4 in United States District Court in Boston.  “About three-quarters of a million Americans have died and others have suffered longterm consequences and unvaccinated persons are far more likely to become infected and therefore infect others, particularly in light of the delta variant to COVID-19. The hospital has a legitimate interest in promoting medical safety and health. They’re in a better position than a federal court to assess those risks.” 

“Presumably the goal is to manage what can be managed as best as they can under the circumstances and that would include maximizing the number of vaccinated employees at or approaching 100 percent.”

Mass General Brigham, which operates 14 hospitals in eastern Massachusetts, rejected the overwhelming majority of requests it got for religious and medical exemptions to its requirement that employees get a coronavirus vaccine. Hospital officials rejected 93 percent of applications, issuing just 234 exemptions out of more than 2,000 people who applied for them.

Mass General Brigham announced in June 2021 that its 80,000 employees would need to be fully vaccinated against coronavirus by November 5, 2021 or lose their jobs. The hospital corporation gave people the opportunity to apply for religious and medical exemptions, but Ryan McLane, the lawyer for the plaintiff in the case, says the process was opaque and unfair.

Mass General Brigham has never disclosed which departments the people granted exemptions worked in. He argued that the hospital may have granted exemptions to people working remotely out of state.

“We’re still left with a mystery as to why these 234 were accepted and the others were not,” McLane said during the court hearing Thursday. “We’ve demonstrated that their beliefs are sincere. They’re now trying to say it’s an undue hardship to accommodate them while at the same time accommodating others.

“We don’t know what the criteria was,” he added. “We don’t know what the actual credentials were. And now today we have the number and 93 percent should really raise some eyebrows.”

The lawyer for the defendant, Kiley Belliveau, said that the hospital reviewed all of the applications and decided which exemption requests it thought were legitimate.

She said Mass General Brigham properly wants as much of its workforce vaccinated as possible, arguing that unvaccinated health care workers pose a threat to public health.

“Allowing further exemptions outside of this rigorous process included the risk of spread to medically-vulnerable patients, staff and visitors,” Belliveau said during the court hearing Thursday. “As I mentioned, remote employees, all employees are deployable to the hospital. All of them are in some way supporting the critical work of the hospital. Alternative measures — masking, testing, social distancing … it’s not sufficient.

“And really important here, your honor, and your honor has pointed it out in previous hearings on this, is the need to show to the public that the hospital system is taking all of the precautions it can take to make it a safe environment for people to come into the hospital,” she added. “People are avoiding hospital care, your honor, due to COVID and the fear of COVID going into the hospital.”

Saylor said that his ruling in the case is preliminary. Lawyers and the judge are scheduled to meet again for a scheduling conference in the case on Wednesday, November 10.


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