ANN ARBOR, Mich (WXYZ) — COVID-19 vaccine requirements, especially in the workplace, remain a topic of discussion as mandates go into effect.
"That mandate forced me, forced me to decide. It was either be vaccinated or be let go," said a former employee of Michigan Medicine whose departure from the health system after 15 years of employment stemmed from their opposition to its COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
But now, Michigan Medicine has paused the vaccine mandate for all of its union employees, including nurses.
"A federal district court in Louisiana has issued a nationwide injunction prohibiting the enforcement of the CMS regulations requiring vaccination of healthcare workers. As a result, the University was required to pause enforcement of the vaccination mandate for union employees," Mary Masson, who heads up public relations for Michigan Medicine, said in a statement.
Last week, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) indicated that they would "not enforce the new rule regarding vaccination of health care workers or requirements for policies and procedures in certified Medicare/Medicaid providers and suppliers (including nursing facilities, hospitals, dialysis facilities and all other provider types covered by the rule) while there are court-ordered injunctions in place prohibiting enforcement of this provision."
The pause on the vaccine mandate also means Michigan Medicine would have suspended weekly COVID-19 testing of union employees, but the health system said they were not requiring their union employees to be tested regularly.
Senior citizens Bill and Michelle Kotowicz said they would not want a health care worker who hasn't been vaccinated against COVID-19 to be treating them.
"We don't want a nurse or anyone who works in a hospital situation taking care of yourself or your loved ones and not being protected themselves, let alone protecting patients," Michelle Kotowicz said.
7 Action News spoke to a person currently employed by Michigan Medicine who wants to remain anonymous because of what she called "bullying" at work related to whether someone has been vaccinated. She said the pause on the vaccine mandate for unionized workers is creating animosity.
"Only if you work for a union do they get to be paused," she said. "I just think it's kind of sad that the university is so big on diversity and equity and inclusion, but anyone who has decided not to get the shot is not part of that equity and inclusion."
Speech-language pathologist and autism specialist Maija Hahn founded the United Healthcare Workers, an initiative to help support those in the health care industry who do not want to be forced to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of their employment.
Hahn wishes the pause on the mandate included all health care workers.
"We would love to see that across the board, not just for the union workers but for all employees," she said.
Hahn and others opposed to mandates in the health care industry are planning a trip to Lansing Wednesday to speak to the press and lawmakers.
"We are entering a massive health care crisis in the state of Michigan and it's not just the vaccine mandates that are causing it," Hahn said, adding that the mandates are putting stress on an industry that is already experiencing staffing shortages.
"The people that are working in these shifts are doing long, tireless shifts," she said. "They're exhausted, they don't have the resources and the support."
Beaumont Health and Henry Ford Health System are not pausing their employee COVID-19 vaccine mandates, according to their respective representatives.
A spokesperson for Michigan Medicine said they continue to encourage all of their employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 "as it remains a very important tool in our fight to end this pandemic."