The Biden administration’s vaccine mandate is, to say the least, controversial. For some, it’s simply common sense. For others, it’s a flagrant violation of individual rights.
I’m firmly in favor of vaccines, but the anti-mandate argument isn’t completely meritless. Suing hospitals for enforcing it is.
That’s why a recent Northwest Florida Daily News article on a lawsuit filed against Ascension Sacred Heart irked me.
Ascension didn’t mastermind the vax mandate — the federal government did — but the lawsuit targets them all the same and has the potential to do real damage to an institution that has been working around the clock to care for the people of Northwest Florida throughout the pandemic.
Ascension Florida bought Bay Medical in Panama City shortly after Hurricane Michael destroyed it. Rather than scrap it and start over, the hospital system retained all of Bay Medical’s employees and renovated and repaired the hospital, restoring a safety net hospital that’s vital to the Panama City area.
Then the pandemic hit, and the doctors, nurses and countless support staffers at Ascension Sacred Heart have spent the past 18 months riding waves of COVID-19 surges, watching their coworkers and neighbors struggle — and many times die — in the ICU.
But not a day has passed where they didn’t put patients first.
Ascension Florida opened the first two drive through testing sites when the pandemic first hit in March 2020, and they tested nearly 100,000 Floridians between their Panama City and Jacksonville sites at a time when testing was hard to come by. When vaccines became widely available in January, it launched the state’s first hospital-run mass-vaccination clinic and vaccinated nearly 100,000 people throughout Northwest Florida.
Just as hospitals were resuming surgeries, cancer screenings and other care that was deferred or cancelled during the first waves of the pandemic, the contagious COVID-19 Delta variant surged across Florida. Ascension Florida immediately went back to pandemic mode — caring for the sick and vulnerable.
Ascension Sacred Heart even worked with leaders from the Department of Health, the city and the county to lead advocacy efforts to bring a state-run monoclonal antibody treatment center to Pensacola so that hospital staff could return to the bedside.
Although exhausted from the previous 18 months, Ascension Florida’s employees stood up to the challenge and took care of a record number of COVID patients — at the height of the delta surge, every conceivable space in the hospital was converted to a COVID ICU.
Putting aside that most of those patients could have avoided a hospital stay if they got the jab, Ascension’s workforce fought through fatigue. They endured the trauma of watching their coworkers fall sick. They kept caring for the community when the community needed them most.
From the first day of the coronavirus pandemic to now, it has been a leader in the communities it serves.
And it did so without laying off any employees, cutting anyone’s hours or slashing anyone’s pay or benefits. In fact, it poured its heart into improving employee morale by setting up wellness rooms so stressed workers could get a brief respite from their day-to-day struggle. It launched a website and app to make wellness options easily accessible. It set up a behavioral health hotline to help anyone who in need. Chaplains were mobilized to provide an abundance of spiritual support to the religious among Ascension’s workforce.
While many are returning to “normal” life, the pandemic is still very real in hospitals. Another variant could emerge and, if one does, Ascension Florida is ready to support its patients and caregivers with testing, vaccines and monoclonal antibody treatments.
Yet now a small band of employees is taking them to court.
And for what? So they can stick it to a safety net hospital that is doing its best to meet a seemingly endless number of challenges wrought by a generational public-health crisis?