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Union says 30% of UC Medical Center nurses could quit over vaccine mandate

Published: Sep. 1, 2021 at 3:56 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER) - Pushback against area hospital systems’ mandates for employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 continues with the latest coming from more than 100 nurses who say they’d quit before complying.

Our media partners at the Cincinnati Enquirer are reporting that a number of UC Medical Center nurses, responding to a union survey, indicated they would leave their jobs if the hospital system’s vaccine mandate is finalized.

The Ohio Nurses Association survey was conducted immediately after UC Health and other area hospital systems announced they would mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for their employees. The survey, done Aug. 5-12, was made public Wednesday. Results show that 136 of 456 nurses who responded – balked at the mandate. The medical center has more than 1,500 nurses.

The survey underscores the ongoing controversy over the region’s health systems requiring vaccinations, which at one point landed all six of them in local courts. A recruiter with St. Elizabeth Healthcare, another of the six health systems, recently told The Enquirer that the vaccine mandate had led some nurses to quit.

“This places the medical center in a very difficult position, and it places the nurses in a very difficult position,” said Dominic Mendiola, labor representative for the nurses association. He said that UCMC has been at capacity on and off since July, and currently, 187 nursing positions are posted.

About 70% of those who responded to the poll said they already got the COVID-19 vaccine, Mendiola said.

UC Health spokeswoman Amanda Nageleisen said that she doesn’t have data on employee vaccination rates. But she added: “We are proud of the thousands of our nurses, physicians and other employees who have been fully vaccinated.

“The science supports their decision, and we applaud their willingness to step forward and advance the safety of our patients, staff and community,” Nageleisen said. “These survey results do not reflect the views of the majority of our 10,000 employees, including our 2,600 nurses across the UC Health system.”

Mendiola is the administrator of the local affiliate of the Ohio Nurses Association, the Registered Nurses Association, which he said has 1,500-1,700 registered nurses. He said the nurses haven’t been able to negotiate the vaccine mandate yet because of staffing issues at UC Medical Center.

Nageleisen said the deadline for employees to submit proof of vaccination completion to UC Health is Oct. 1.

UC Health and the union reached a new three-year contract in July.

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Christ Hospital and St. Elizabeth Healthcare all set Oct. 1 as their employees’ vaccination deadline. TriHealth and Bon Secours Mercy Health have not yet finalized their policies.

The six systems announced together on Aug. 5 their decision to mandate vaccines of employees. They said it is a way to further protect employees, patients and the public – and as an example for other employers in the region.

But the move prompted immediate opposition in the region among hospital workers and other residents.

In Northern Kentucky, some St. Elizabeth Healthcare hospital workers and their supporters have held protests against the mandate. They say it’s an affront to their “medical freedom.”

Lawsuits against the six hospital systems seeking to block the vaccine mandate were voluntarily dismissed earlier this week, court records show.

The dismissals were filed Sunday by attorneys representing the employees, records show. No reason was given, but court documents say the plaintiffs “intend to refile.”

Private companies are free to set conditions of employment as long as they do not violate existing state and federal laws, legal experts say. Specifically, there is no federal law prohibiting companies from requiring vaccines. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission this year ruled that employers can make a COVID-19 vaccine a condition of employment.

Mendiola said the Ohio Nurses Association encourages its members to get vaccinated. He added, “Vaccinations should be bargained with employees and not forced on employees.

Staff writers Randy Tucker and Kevin Grasha contributed.

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