Riverside Medical Center

Riverside Medical Center in Kankakee

KANKAKEE — The temporary restraining order blocking the termination of 53 Riverside Healthcare employees for noncompliance with the hospital’s Oct. 31 COVID-19 vaccination deadline was shortened Friday in court.

Rather than the temporary restraining order expiring on Jan. 11 as previously granted by Kankakee County Circuit Court Associated Judge Nancy Nicholson, the order will expire on Dec. 5.

The attorneys for Riverside Healthcare and those representing the 53 employees protected by the restraining order agreed to the compromise just before noon Friday.

After the approximate 45-minute hearing, Daniel Suhr, managing attorney of Liberty Justice Center, the firm representing the unvaccinated workers, said the employees could file for an additional order if desired.

Riverside’s motion to dismiss the temporary restraining order stated the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued an interim rule requiring all healthcare organizations with Medicare and Medicaid contracts to mandate “all staff be fully vaccinated for COVID-19” and have received the first dose by Dec. 5.

Riverside, like nearly every medical institution, receives a significant portion of its funding through patients covered by either Medicare or Medicaid.

“We are pleased that the Kankakee County court is allowing the restraining order placed on Riverside Healthcare to expire on Dec. 5,” said Carl Maronich, a Riverside spokesman. “The court’s action allows us to comply with new federal regulations from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services requiring vaccination of health care workers in facilities that participate in those programs.”

The motion to dissolve the restraining order stated the CMS rule 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.

“There are a number of lawsuits attacking the CMS rule,” Suhr said outside the courtroom following the hearing. “There is a good chance this rule will no longer be in effect.”

Suhr added the CMS rule is an “overreach” by the federal government.

“These are decisions people should make between themselves and their doctor or that should be made on their own. These are decisions which should not be made between them and the federal government or between them and President Biden,” Suhr said. “This is part of a continued pattern of overreach.”

Maronich added that Riverside remains “unwavering in our belief that requiring our employees to be vaccinated” provides the safest environment possible for everyone who enters Riverside facilities.

“We sincerely appreciate our employees, nearly all of whom are already in compliance with the requirement, for their hard work and steadfast commitment to the health and safety of our patients, Riverside colleagues and community,” 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.