KANKAKEE — Citing changes in regulations to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Riverside Healthcare is asking the court to lift the recently granted temporary restraining order against it.

The court order is protecting 56 employees who are seeking to work for Riverside without complying to the hospital’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. These employees sought and were denied religious/strongly held belief or medical exemptions.

A hearing on Riverside’s motion to dissolve the temporary restraining order is set for 11:15 a.m. Friday before Kankakee County Circuit Court Associate Judge Nancy Nicholson.

A motion filed Nov. 10 by Riverside attorney Michael Phillips stated the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued an interim rule requiring all healthcare organizations with Medicare and Medicaid contracts — which includes Riverside Healthcare — to mandate “all staff be fully vaccinated for COVID-19” and have received the first dose of the vaccine by Dec. 5.

The legal brief states this vaccination rule “undoubtedly preempts any state law that conflicts with it,” including the basis for the temporary restraining order which is the Illinois Healthcare Right to Conscience Act.

As a result, Phillips’ motion states, Nicholson should immediately dissolve the Oct. 25 restraining order so the yet-unvaccinated staff members can meet the Dec. 5 vaccination deadline.

Phillips further stated that failure to dissolve the restraining order could jeopardize Riverside’s ability to receive Medicare and Medicaid payments, exposing the healthcare provider to “catastrophic harm.”

The legal firm representing the 56 unvaccinated Riverside employees filed a 13-page response to the hospital’s emergency motion nothing that Riverside has yet to establish policies and procedures to consider religious accommodation requests consistent with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Title VII prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.

Attorney Jeff Schwab with the Liberty Justice Center said Riverside has no basis to terminate the employees and therefore cannot claim the restraining order conflicts with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

If the court does not agree to dissolve the order, Riverside is asking the judge to require the employees to each post at least a $1,500 bond as they work under the protection of a temporary restraining order to offer protection to the healthcare system.

Lee Provost, an award-winning reporter, has been writing local news stories for The Daily Journal since 1988. He is a lifelong resident of the region. Provost can be reached at lprovost@daily-journal.com.