The former chief of cardiovascular surgery at Doylestown Hospital says he was laid off after refusing the COVID-19 vaccine and now wants to sue the Bucks County hospital over its mandate and his termination.
As of 4 p.m. Wednesday, Joseph Auteri, of Buckingham, had raised more than $29,200 from 174 donors through GoFundMe, a crowdfunding website. In the campaign, “Help Joe Auteri fight this injustice,” Auteri says that he requested religious and medical exemptions to the vaccine mandate but that both were denied.
“I declined the vaccine, and was promptly terminated, despite all that we’ve accomplished together,” Auteri wrote in a post on his campaign page, which was first reported by the Courier Times in Bucks County. “I feel what they did to me and other healthcare workers was wrong.”
Auteri said he has natural immunity from a prior COVID-19 infection.
In seeking a religious exemption, he cited 1 Corinthians 6:19, which reads, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit?” The Bible verse has been interpreted as a command to care for the body as a temple by not introducing things that could harm it, and has been widely cited in religious vaccine exemptions.
Hospital administrators are “aware of the GoFundMe campaign launched by Dr. Auteri, one of Doylestown Hospital’s most highly-compensated employed physician before his separation from employment, seeking contributions from members of the public to fund baseless legal action against Doylestown Hospital,” said Allyson Gilmore, a spokesperson for the hospital, in an email.
She said Auteri’s GoFundMe campaign “misrepresents the circumstances of his separation from employment,” but declined to elaborate, citing Auteri’s plans to sue the hospital.
Fewer than 10 employees have been terminated for failure to comply with the hospital’s mandate, which requires vaccination or an approved religious or medical exemption. An additional 96 employees have been granted exemptions, Gilmore said.
Auteri did not respond to a message sent through his GoFundMe page, and two phone numbers listed for him were disconnected.
The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in November said health organizations must require vaccination for their workers starting in January in order to continue receiving money from the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Federal circuit courts temporarily suspended the rule while lawsuits brought by several states are reviewed.
Vaccine mandates were already in place at most Philadelphia-area health systems, including Doylestown Hospital, which in August gave employees until October to get vaccinated or obtain an exemption for health or religious reasons. Those rules are unlikely to be affected by the outcome of the CMS cases, said Dorit Reiss, a professor at UC Hastings College of Law who specializes in vaccine law.
“Whether or not the CMS mandate is in place, a hospital can still require vaccines for employees,” Reiss said. “Employers historically have the right to set workplace requirements.”
Philadelphia-area hospitals have reported high rates of vaccine acceptance — about 99% of the University of Pennsylvania Health System’s 38,000 employees had complied with the mandate as of September — and have shown no signs of changing their vaccine policy.
Doylestown stood by its vaccine mandate.
“This requirement is an extension of our organization’s belief that following the science is the most effective way to serve our community,” Gilmore said in a statement.
In other parts of Pennsylvania, some health systems have been backing off their mandates following legal challenges to the CMS rule.
The Association of American Medical Colleges, which represents all accredited U.S. medical schools, said it was “imperative” for hospitals to continue requiring vaccination, as hospitals fill up with the latest wave of COVID-19 cases.
“[The] ethical commitment of all health care personnel to put patients first means that no patient should be placed at risk because caregivers and health care workers are not vaccinated,” Janis Orlowski, the organization’s chief health-care officer, said in a statement.