MRH confirms: Many applications for religious exemption to vaccine mandate have been denied |

MRH confirms: Many applications for religious exemption to vaccine mandate have been denied

Numerous hospital employees will work final day Thursday

The Memorial Hospital at Craig
Cuyler Meade / Craig Press

Anecdotal, often off-the-record reports regarding the handling of the recent vaccine mandates at Craig’s hospital seem to be largely true: Memorial Regional Health will deny a number of applications for religious exemptions to the state and federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate for healthcare workers.

That means numerous hospital employees will no longer be employable by the hospital after Thursday.

“Anybody who requested an exemption, medical or religious, had to complete documentation stating their request for exemption and why,” said hospital spokesperson and chief operating officer Jennifer Riley. “Each exemption was reviewed independently. Medical (exemptions) was by a panel of medical providers across a number of specialties. It was an interactive process with the individuals requesting exemption, including reaching out to providers if they gave permission.”

Religious exemption applications, some of which were apparently granted, were reviewed in a similar process, though with different variables.

“There were some questions to answer,” Riley said. “They had to participate in an interactive process with H.R. and a panel with members both internal and external. That panel took into consideration responses from the individual to determine if in fact that request was truly, deeply held religious belief that prevented or prohibited them from getting the vaccine.”

Riley said there are guidelines from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, that were followed by the panel.

“Without getting into each evaluation, it was specific to that person’s request,” Riley said. “There’s a series of questions that help you determine, is this about this vaccine or all vaccines? Just for example, one question was do you routinely take other vaccines? Including flu or TDAP, MMR, etcetera. Others you receive as an adult. That’s part of the discussion.”

Riley emphasized that was not the only part of the discussion, but said it was a complex decision to make for those on the panel.

“People have always had the right to opt out of vaccine requirements based on medical or religious reasons,” Riley said. “But we’ve never seen the number of requests we’ve had since this became a mandate. It’s not just us. Healthcare providers across the country are facing the same mandate, and they’re faced with the same number of requests. We took it seriously and followed a very consistent process.”

Anyone whose exemption request was not approved had until 5 p.m. Wednesday to get a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. If they refused, MRH would no longer be able to employ them beyond Thursday. Earlier this month, President Joe Biden ordered the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services to pull federal funding from facilities that do not have a 100% vaccination rate, and 66% of MRH’s revenue comes from CMS payments.

“Honestly, any employer would love to take the easy route and just say, ‘OK, granted.’ But that isn’t right,” Riley said. “It isn’t legal, either. When it comes to enforcing mandates and rules, I don’t think it’s in anyone’s best interest to just do it when it’s easy. Nobody in this organization in administration or management wants to lose an employee over a vaccine, and it’s gut wrenching to think we have to make those decisions.

“But it’s also gut wrenching to think we can’t look at the vaccine in the way it’s intended. One is fully approved by the FDA; it’s backed by data; billions of vaccines have been delivered, and it’s proven to be safe.”

Riley said the hospital would have the full count of hospital employees who chose to leave the hospital rather than receive the vaccine by Thursday.

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