The U.S. Supreme Court rulings from Thursday had more than one tentacle, and one of those reached Kankakee as the court’s decision confirmed the policy such as the one instituted by Riverside Healthcare regarding staff vaccinations.
While the court’s ruling blocked President Joe Biden’s vaccination and testing requirement through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for those businesses with 100 or more employees, in a separate ruling it did allow the vaccination mandate to stand for medical facilities which take Medicare and Medicaid funding.
That ruling is where Riverside comes into the decision, just as it does for the vast majority of hospitals throughout the nation.
In this separate ruling on the president’s vaccination rules for health care workers, which was released at the same time Thursday, the court, by a 5-4 vote, sided with the administration.
“We agree with the Government that the [Health and Human Services] Secretary’s rule falls within the authorities that Congress has conferred upon him fits neatly within the language of the statue,” the court majority wrote.
“After all, ensuring that providers take steps to avoid transmitting a dangerous virus to their patients is consistent with the fundamental principle of the medical profession: First, do not harm.”
In a statement from Riverside, the organization stated it was pleased with the court’s ruling.
“Our decision to mandate staff vaccination from the beginning has clearly focused on protecting the health and safety of our patients and workforce. As we are currently 99 percent vaccinated, Riverside Healthcare remains fully confident that requiring vaccination continues to provide the safest environment possible to everyone who walks through our doors,” the administration said.
In a long-running plan with its staff, Riverside was firm that the vast majority of its staff — those it determined to have contact with patients — were to receive the COVID-19 vaccination.
Some 99 percent of its approximate 2,900-member staff took steps to get the vaccination. A small group, about 50, declined and agreed to weekly testing to determine they did not have the virus.
This portion of the staff eventually took legal action against the health care system’s administration seeking to block their firing for not getting the vaccination.
Just after the start of 2022, Riverside fired 24 full-time equivalent workers.
One of those workers who lost her job is nurse Neelie Panozzo. Panozzo had been at the forefront of rallies pressuring Riverside’s administration to back away from enforcement of its staff vaccination policy.
“While the ruling today [Thursday] regarding the health care mandate was not the desired outcome, the Supreme Court made it very clear that the rule REQUIRES medical and religious exemptions to be offered,” she wrote in an email response to the Journal.
“The fight will rage on. There was yet a great victory today as a stay was granted against the OSHA mandate for hard working Americans as their liberties and freedoms were upheld by the Supreme Court,” she stated.
AMITA Health St. Mary’s Hospital had also planned similar action against its staff, but backed away as it waiting on the legal process. An email to AMITA seeking comment was not returned.
The court’s decision is the final act in this matter.