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Hadassah hospital said to furlough 80 workers who haven’t taken COVID shots

Jerusalem hospital places staff, including doctors and nurses, on leave for avoiding shots without justification; CEO previously barred unvaccinated staff from treating patients

Magen David Adom workers wear protective clothing outside the coronavirus unit at Hadassah Ein Karem hospital in Jerusalem, on October 19, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Magen David Adom workers wear protective clothing outside the coronavirus unit at Hadassah Ein Karem hospital in Jerusalem, on October 19, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem has recently placed 80 members of staff, including doctors and nurses, who haven’t been vaccinated against the coronavirus on unpaid leave, the Haaretz news site reported Monday.

The report said these 80 workers did not qualify for an exceptions process set up by the hospital for those workers who medically could not vaccinate.

Hadassah operates two hospitals in Jerusalem. Its Ein Kerem campus is home to one of Israel’s largest and most advanced public hospitals, and the biggest in the capital.

Hadassah CEO Zeev Rotstein has taken a harsh stance against vaccine refusers – those who choose not to take the vaccine rather than being unable to do so. According to Haaretz, in January Rotstein announced that unvaccinated employees of Hadassah wouldn’t be able to come into work during the lockdown, and that these missed workdays would be deducted from their vacation time.

The announcement created controversy among Haddasah employees and was later clarified, with Hadassah saying it only pertained to non-essential workers.

Illustrative: A Hadassah medical staff member receives a COVID-19 vaccine at Hadassah Ein Kerem, on December 20, 2020 in Jerusalem. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Earlier this month, the hospital’s management decided to generally prohibit medical staff members who haven’t been vaccinated from treating patients. The hospital told workers that doctors and nurses who haven’t taken COVID-19 shots or acquired some level of immunity by recovering from the virus will find themselves resigned to administrative roles or any other position that the hospital sees fit.

“We can turn nurses and doctors into administrators or put them in any other jobs we find around the hospital,” a Hadassah spokeswoman told The Times of Israel, adding that they will continue to be paid their regular salaries.

As of March 2, Around 5 percent of the medical staff at the hospital — some 300 people — lacked immunity from vaccines or from virus recovery.

The announcement prohibiting patient contact with unvaccinated workers came on the heels of a Health Ministry directive that calls for unvaccinated staff and students to be barred from working in certain departments across Israeli hospitals and in community healthcare. They include wards for people in a state of immunosuppression, including oncology; wards with pre-term infants and those with bone marrow transplant patients.

Prof. Zeev Rotstein, CEO of Hadassah Hospital attends a conference of the Israeli Television News Company in Jerusalem on March 7, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Health Ministry directive also stated: “A new employee who refuses to be vaccinated should not be hired at a medical institution.” It said unvaccinated employees should only be allowed to work in coronavirus wards if they sign a special waiver.

The directive will be enforced by the ministry at government-owned hospitals, while others are urged to comply. The ministry said unvaccinated workers at government hospitals will also be summoned to an immunization clinic to be informed of the potential medical consequences of their failure to vaccinate.

Rotstein said in early March that he had considered the issue and decided that patient rights trump the choice of staff to shun vaccination, given that the “weakened public must be protected.”

He acknowledged “the tension between individual rights and the public and professional responsibilities that apply to all hospital staff,” but said that the health of patients comes first. He noted that employees who have a justified reason for not vaccinating will be given special permission to work with patients.

Despite Israel starting its vaccination campaign in December, and medical staff getting priority, in February a report by Channel 12 stated that only about 70%-90% of medical staff in Israel were vaccinated.

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