Ascension Florida revokes vaccination mandate for suspended employees

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Florida hospitals are in a tough spot after the signing of multiple vaccine mandate ban bills that were signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis Thursday. One of those bills is the House Bill 1B which prohibits private employers from imposing COVID-19 vaccination mandates for certain employees.

Hospitals now have to choose between obeying a federal rule requiring health care workers to be vaccinated or a state law banning vaccine mandates.

STORY: Man shot and killed in Arlington neighborhood, JSO says

Ascension Florida and Gulf Coast is bringing back previously suspended employees immediately.

A letter sent out by Ascension CEO Tom VanOsdol on Friday confirmed Ascension is rescinding the suspensions of those who were suspended over the vaccine mandate requirement.

The letter reads:

“Yesterday, the Governor of Florida signed into effect Florida law HB 1B. HB 1B conflicts with The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ Omnibus COVID-19 Health Care Staff Vaccination Interim Final Rule dated Nov. 4, 2021.

“In order to to be compliant with federal and state laws, Ascension Florida will be rescinding the suspensions of associates who were suspended pending their compliance with the Ascension Florida vaccine policy. All associates will be required to continue to comply with our infection control protocols. Once we have clarity regarding the application of HB 1B and CMS IFR, suspensions may be reinstated.”

This means any employee who was suspended by the hospital due to failure to comply can come back to work. For now.

Ascension Sacred Heart employee Carleigh Harrison said employees got a call on Friday about getting back on the schedule.

“I’m very thankful that Ascension is attempting to honor state laws. And I’m very thankful that people who want or who need their job back immediately have that opportunity,” Harrison said.

STORY: Man accused of killing beloved Jacksonville teacher in 2019 indicted in murder of second woman

Harrison was one of many suspended on Nov. 13 for not complying with the mandate.

“I do feel very hurt by Ascension that they were willing to let go so many valuable workers who have been on the frontline through this entire pandemic,” Harrison said.

In the letter the hospital said once they have clarification on House Bill 1B, suspensions may be reinstated.

“That makes me very nervous as well because we could just be suspended again with very little notice,” Harrison said.

The letter also said the hospital needs clarification on the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services emergency regulation, which institutes its own deadline for employees to be vaccinated by Jan. 4 or be terminated.

Outside Ascension St. Vincent’s, Josh Smith said COVID-19 is an issue he’s dealt with personally.

“I have family that died from COVID. So I support the COVID mandate to get the vaccine,” Smith said.

He thinks such a mandate is important.

Ascension employees were allowed to start work again on Saturday. For Harrison, she’s unsure when she’ll be returning.

Action News Jax asked how many employees were suspended at St. Vincent’s over the mandate. Officials said they did not have that number.

STORY: Driver, child killed in crash on I-295 Friday night

We also reached out to Mayo Clinic, Baptist Health, and UF Health for updates on their vaccine mandates moving forward.

UF Health officials gave us this statement:

“We’ve actually never had a “mandate.” If people aren’t vaccinated we’ve asked them to wear n95 masks on campus instead of regular surgical masks. We’re giving people the option of a vaccine by January or they need to file for an exemption either medical, religious.”

We have yet to hear back from Baptist Health and Mayo Clinic officials.

The newly signed state laws begin the process to separate Florida from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for workplace safety oversight. Under a new federal rule, all employees must be vaccinated at hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities that are reimbursed by Medicare or Medicaid. Workers need to have their first shot by the beginning of December and be fully vaccinated by January ― a direct conflict with the new Florida law, which would allow $50,000 fines for institutions that fire unvaccinated workers.

Watch CBS47/FOX30 at 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. to hear the full story.

Samantha Mathers

Samantha Mathers, Action News Jax

Samantha Mathers is a digital reporter and content creator for Action News Jax.