CHRISTIANSTED — The union representing Virgin Islands nurses has filed an emergency motion asking a judge to block hospitals from requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of employment.
The hospitals notified staff on Aug. 6 that they must take the COVID-19 vaccine or “risk termination if not fully vaccinated by September 24,” which constitutes a violation of the collective bargaining agreement, according to a memorandum filed in Superior Court by union counsel Earnesta Taylor.
The plaintiff is identified as Melisia Hanley, in her capacity as chair of the Virgin Islands State Nurses’ Association Collective Bargaining Unit. Defendants in the civil breach of contract claim are the Virgin Islands Government Hospitals and Health Facilities Corporation, Luis Hospital and Schneider Hospital. The mandate’s timeline does not provide an opportunity for nurses to file a grievance to address due process violations, according to the filing.
“The hospitals have a nurse workforce that is over 55 percent unvaccinated with the COVID vaccine. If the defendants enforce the vaccine mandate as written, the hospitals stand to lose over half of their nursing workforce,” according to the motion. The union is seeking an injunction to block implementation of the mandate.
“Moreover, demanding that an employee subject himself/herself to injecting a substance in his/her body where the long-term effect is unknown is beyond the scope of comprehension and money damages. There are too many variables, unknowns and possible outcomes in subjecting oneself to the COVID vaccine that a money judgement cannot remedy,” according to the motion.
Hospital officials have given no indication that they intend to reverse the mandate, which requires all hospital employees to be vaccinated unless they provide proof of a strongly held religious belief or medical reason for not taking vaccines. Those who receive such an exemption must instead submit to weekly testing.
Schneider Hospital CEO Dr. Luis Amaro said recently that such mandates are nothing new, and the COVID-19 vaccine is the safest, best way for physicians and nurses to keep their patients safe. “Our healthcare staff are heroes, they are the backbone of what we do to protect this community. But this measure is another tool to protect this community, inclusive of the skills and talents of the staff,” Amaro said.
Luis Hospital attorney Chivonne Thomas also said recently that, “the goal of the vaccine mandate is not to exclude anyone, but to ensure the safety of staff and patients and the overall community.”
Amaro and Thomas could not be reached for additional comment Tuesday.
“Millions of people in the United States have received COVID-19 vaccines under the most intense safety monitoring in U.S. history,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Forty-one people have died in the territory from COVID-19, and none of the dead — or any of the individuals who have been hospitalized with the virus in the territory — were fully vaccinated.
By SUZANNE CARLSON/The Virgin Islands Daily News