Vaccinate or terminate: Houston Methodist hospital workers leave jobs behind over COVID vaccine requirement

Houston Methodist says the vaccination deadline is a milestone, making it the safest hospital system in the country.

HOUSTON — The deadline has passed. Houston Methodist employees who have not gotten the COVID-19 vaccine were to be suspended at the end of the day Monday and later terminated.

RELATED: Today is vaccination deadline for Houston Methodist employees

Supporters joined the employees after their shift Monday at the Baytown campus as they left work together for the last time.

"I cried the whole way out," said Jennifer Bridges, the nurse now at the center of the lawsuit.

The hospital’s vaccine mandate is the focus of a lawsuit in federal court involving 117 healthcare workers and executives. It claims it’s illegal to force employees to participate in a vaccine clinical trial.

RELATED: 117 employees sue Houston Methodist over COVID-19 vaccine requirement

Kara Shepherd, a labor and delivery nurse, is part of the lawsuit. She worked her last shift Saturday.

“All last year, through the COVID pandemic, we came to work and did our jobs. We did what we were asked. This year, we’re basically told we’re disposable,” she said.

Amanda Rivera is not part of the lawsuit but walked out Monday too. 

"I feel betrayed a little bit," she said. "I worked in the ER. It was crazy during the pandemic. We were short-staffed. The hospital was over capacity with patients. It was just a lot. Now for them to come and do this is like a slap in the face. That's how I felt."

Another nurse said she feels betrayed by the hospital for their vaccine requirement and feels she and her colleagues have no rights.  

"I feel like they kind of bullied us into this little corner," the nurse said. 

Bridges says she has no regrets and vows their fight is not over and is willing to take this battle all the way to the Supreme Court. She tells KHOU 11 News more than 50 nurses will join her lawsuit in the coming days. Lawyers will file briefings with a federal judge later this week.

"If I have to eat ramen noodles for two months, I don't care because my health, my family is more important than money and this job," said Bridges.

Houston Methodist released the following statement Monday:

“Today is the deadline for Houston Methodist employees to comply with the mandatory COVID-19 vaccine policy. We are proud to report that almost 100 percent of our 26,000 employees have complied, making the right decision to fulfill their sacred obligation to protect our patients. Unfortunately, a few employees have not met the vaccine requirements and are inviting other employees to join them as they end their shifts today. We fully support the right of our employees to peacefully gather on their own time, but it is unacceptable to even suggest they abandon their patients to participate in this activity. We have faith that our employees will continue putting our patients first. It is unfortunate that today’s milestone of Houston Methodist becoming the safest hospital system in the country is being overshadowed by a few disgruntled employees.”

Shepherd told KHOU 11, “We’ve done our research. We’re doing what’s right for ourselves and our families. He can call us disgruntled, but in my opinion, I think we have very good reason.”