BlueTower

Riverside Medical Center could be headed for a showdown with a significant portion of its workforce due to the COVID-19 vaccination.

KANKAKEE — Riverside Healthcare notified employees by email on Friday that their religious exemption request regarding the COVID-19 vaccination has been denied.

In the email provided to the Daily Journal, the nonprofit organization — Kankakee County’s largest employer with more than 3,000 employees — stated, “We take all requests very seriously and respect the time you invested to submit it.”

The hospital administration further stated it could not risk having unvaccinated employees caring for patients.

The denial letter, which went to those not willing to participate in the healthcare organization’s COVID Vaccination Program Policy, sets the stage for what could be a showdown between Riverside and a significant portion of its employees.

As of the end of August, Riverside had a vaccination rate of 54 percent. The current rate was not available.

The denial form letter further stated, “Based on our review of your declination request and our COVID Vaccination Program Policy, your request has been denied. Although your religious or strongly held belief may otherwise qualify for an exemption, Riverside has decided to deny your request because you are in a patient-facing position.”

The hospital’s letter stated the safety of its patients and residents are its top priority. The letter stated unvaccinated staff working in patient-facing positions, creates an “undue hardship of safety risks and legal liability” due to the increased risk of transmission of the virus.

The letter went on to state employees not willing to become vaccinated may consider applying for non-patient-facing positions.

Riverside had previously informed its workforce that it has until Oct. 31 to become vaccinated. If at that deadline employees do not gain the vaccination, they will be placed on unpaid leave and eventually the non-complying employees will be fired.

AMITA Health St. Mary’s Hospital has a similar policy, but its deadline is Nov. 12.

In a Sept. 17 memo, Phil Kambic, Riverside’s president and CEO, reminded employees of the Aug. 27 announcement of the mandatory vaccination policy.

“This was done after careful consideration of the scientific evidence of the vaccine’s effectiveness and our obligation to protect the health and safety of our patients, staff and community members,” he wrote.

Kambic noted that President Joe Biden’s executive order regarding vaccinations for healthcare workers does not allow for a testing alternative in lieu of getting the vaccine.

“Riverside’s vaccination policy is consistent with the Biden executive order,” he said.

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.