Riverside vaccination update

Employees walk across the overpass at Riverside Medical Center earlier this week. As both Riverside and AMITA Health St. Mary’s Hospital inch closer to their vaccine mandate deadlines for employees, the compliance rates are climbing. There continues, however, to be employees who say they will not comply with the mandate regardless of whether or not it will mean they lose their jobs. READ MORE.

KANKAKEE — The number of Riverside Healthcare employees seeking to continue working for the organization without becoming vaccinated against COVID-19 increased to 57 on Friday.

In an emergency hearing Friday, Riverside did not object to 53 employees being added to the temporary restraining order issued earlier in the week by Kankakee County Circuit Court Associate Judge Nancy Nicholson.

That restraining order originally covered five nurses who were set to either be fired or suspended by Riverside after Sunday for not gaining the vaccination.

The restraining order maintains the employees’ work status until Jan. 11.

Other workers facing the vaccination requirement, who have been determined by Riverside as unwilling to be vaccinated, will be suspended as of this weekend. That circumstance is likely driving people to be part of the temporary restraining order.

Riverside employees required to become vaccinated must move in that direction now to maintain their employment, according to Riverside’s vaccination plan, which it announced to employees on Aug. 27.

Unvaccinated employees who have not gained a hospital vaccine exemption have until Sunday to get that accomplished. If not, the employees will be placed on a two-week unpaid suspension, according to Riverside’s policy. Following that, they will then be fired.

There were 56 employees who wished to be added.

Riverside’s attorney, Michael Phillips, requested three of the 56 employees be dismissed from the law suit.

Phillips said two of the three would not face termination or suspension. He told Nicholson he could not disclose the reasons.

The third one works for a company that Riverside has contracted with to supply employees.

One of the original plaintiffs — Carmen Wymore — was voluntarily dismissed from the complaint. She has found alternate employment and has resigned from Riverside effective Oct. 31, according to documents.

The fate of the temporary restraining order will likely be determined on Jan. 11, 2022, when Nicholson will hold a hearing on the employees’’ motion for a preliminary injunction to extend protection for the employees.

“This is another great outcome in court today,” Liberty Justice Center managing attorney Daniel Suhr said.

Liberty Justice represents the 57 Riverside employees.

“For these 57 employees, they will be able to show up for their job (Monday) and not be compromised. There is still a substantial number of people who will be out of a job come Monday.

“My hope is that Riverside Healthcare comes to its senses and allows them to continue serving patients.”

Riverside Healthcare said in a statement:

“We continue to be committed to the belief that requiring our employees to be vaccinated will allow us to provide the safest environment for our patients and staff. The criteria we are using to guide our decisions on exemptions is fair, justified and clearly focused on protecting the health and safety of our patients and workforce.

“While we are disappointed some employees have chosen not to comply with our vaccine policy, we understand and respect their viewpoint and we will, of course, comply with the court’s ruling.

“We are encouraged that with the Illinois legislature’s approval of the amendment to the Healthcare Right of Conscious Act we will ultimately have a decision that aligns with our desire to make patient safety the top priority.”

During the Illinois Legislature’s veto session this week, legislators approved an amendment to the Health Care Right of Conscience Act that allows an employer to fire a worker for noncompliance with COVID-19 vaccine or test requirements.

The change was requested by Governor J.B. Pritzker and Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul. It now awaits Pritzker’s signature.

The HCRC Act currently prohibits discrimination against anyone for their “conscientious refusal to receive, obtain, accept, perform, assist, counsel, suggest, recommend, refer or participate in any way in any particular form of health care services contrary to his or her conscience.”

The bill passed Thursday adds language stating that it is not a violation of the law for an employer “to take any measures or impose any requirements …intended to prevent contraction or transmission of COVID-19.”

Jeff Bonty is a reporter for The Daily Journal. He can be reached at jbonty@daily-journal.com and 815-937-3366.

Reporter

Jeff Bonty has worked for The Daily Journal since September 1986, starting in the sports department before moving to news reporting in 2002. He's a native of Indiana and graduate of Purdue University. His email is jbonty@daily-journal.com.