Possible changes at local hospitals follow temporary block on vaccine-mandate enforcement

Published: Nov. 30, 2021 at 6:28 PM CST
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Will hospitals become more lenient on vaccine requirements? That’s the question now that a federal judge has blocked enforcement of a vaccine mandate nationwide, expanding on an order issued Monday in Missouri that affected 10 states, including Kansas. As Eyewitness News reporter Caroline Elliott found, some changes are already happening in some Wichita hospitals.

Eyewitness News spoke to employees with Ascension Via Christi in Wichita who are currently suspended for refusing the vaccine requirement. This week, they said Ascension Via Christi is starting to call some employees, but it’s unclear if the hospital is calling employees back or giving employees options to come back. The hospital isn’t confirming any information with us.

A nurse currently on suspension said for the first time in weeks, she’s hopeful she may be able to go back to work.

After 36 years working as a nurse, Jill Sage is currently suspended by Ascension Via Christi for refusing its vaccine requirement. She said with more nurses suspended over the vaccine, those that are left are struggling to keep up.

“I do have friends that are still in the hospital setting that can attest to... It could be at levels that would be questionable by the Kansas Department of Health,” Sage said.

For the first time, she said she is hopeful after a court temporarily blocked the vaccine mandate. The suit says the mandate could threaten already short-staffed nursing homes and hospitals and the Federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid had no clear authority to enact the mandate.

The order only applies to the 10 states involved in the lawsuit, which includes Kansas. Wichita employment attorney Eric Metz said after this injunction, we could start to see more Kansas hospitals relax vaccine requirements.

“I could see them doing it for two reasons. One, the potential private lawsuits for wrongful termination since there isn’t a government mandate currently in effect. Second, the need for frontline workers and the difficulty in replacing them,” Metz said. “It would not surprise me to see any healthcare facility back down on some of these terminations or suspensions.”

Last week, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt weighed in regarding workers’ rights, issuing a warning to businesses, saying it is now illegal for employers to question religious exemptions.

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