An Indiana pediatrician who refused to get vaccinated against COVID-19 has been unable to work at his hospital job for several weeks and is now speaking out, according to reports and a court document.
In November, Paul Halczenko, MD, was removed from his position at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at Ascension St. Vincent in Indianapolis after declining to follow the health system’s vaccine mandate. Halczenko asked to be reinstated, citing a religious exemption, but Ascension declined.
Halczenko and four other employees sued to stop the hospital’s vaccine mandate November 8 in Southern Indiana District Court, The Indiana Lawyer reported. They claimed the mandate was religious discrimination.
“Was making this decision to stand up for religious liberty and to stand for God’s will, was that worth it? That is always worth it,” Halczenko told WISH-TV News 8. “Ultimately, I have to answer to God.”
“I am following the science,” he added. “The best protection that I can offer to my patients is to use the personal protective equipment and the other measures that are employed by health care workers across the world and have been demonstrated to be effective.”
In mid-December, Ascension decided not to enforce its mandate and reinstated the four other employees who also declined to get vaccinated, yet Halczenko has remained suspended for reasons that remain unclear.
Halczenko motioned the court for a preliminary injunction against the hospital to allow him to return to work. He argued that working in the pediatric intensive care unit enables him to regularly hone the skills needed to conduct complex procedures on critically ill infants and children. He also claimed that being out of work for more than 5 months would lead to the deterioration of his skills to the point that he would not be able to pursue his career.
Judge James Patrick Hanlon ruled December 30 that Halczenko’s continued exclusion from work would not lead to “irreparable” harm to his skills or reputation, although the court acknowledged that Halczenko had “shown that his specialized skills will likely deteriorate during the pendency of this case.”
The judge noted that the “claimed reputational injury — and corresponding impediment to finding a comparable job — would arise from the undisputed, truthful fact that Dr. Halczenko’s employment was terminated because he did not get vaccinated against COVID-19.”
“While Dr. Halczenko has provided evidence that he has attempted to find locum tenens (temporary) positions in other geographic areas, he has not pursued full-time employment as a pediatric critical care physician outside of Indiana due to unwillingness to relocate,” Hanlon wrote. “Halczenko has not submitted evidence that he applied for a position but was not selected because Ascension had suspended him. Instead, the impediment to securing locum tenens employment is the fact that Dr. Halczenko is not vaccinated.”
The judge ordered the parties to participate in an expedited case management plan.
Halczenko had worked at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital since 2012, according to his LinkedIn page. He previously worked as a pediatric intensivist at Florida Pediatric Associates from 2009 to 2012, after attaining a pediatric critical care fellowship. He was certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine in critical care medicine, according to his Ascension profile.
Neither Halczenko nor a spokesperson for Ascension returned queries for comment as of press time. A spokesperson for Ascension told WISH-TV News 8 that the health system does not comment on personnel matters.