Pregnant Ontario Nurse Facing Termination Asks Hospital to Reconsider COVID Vaccine Mandate

Pregnant Ontario Nurse Facing Termination Asks Hospital to Reconsider COVID Vaccine Mandate
Syringes with a COVID-19 vaccine in Bidderford, Maine, on April 26, 2021. (Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images)
Marnie Cathcart

A London, Ontario, pregnant nurse about to be fired from her job has asked the CEO of the London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) to reconsider the hospital’s mandatory vaccine policy.

Sandra Hartman, who is 35 and eight months pregnant, was put on unpaid leave for declining a COVID-19 shot, according to a report in the London Free Press on June 11. Despite most COVID restrictions being lifted, the hospital has not changed its policy, the nurse said.

An LHSC spokesman said the hospital was unable to comment by press time.

Hartman said she hopes LHSC chief executive Jackie Schleifer Taylor would reconsider the policy.

“At this point, we’re past ... needing it,” she said on June 11.“I’m hoping for a change, but that could take time. It could take years. As CEO, I think she would have the authority to change it.”

Hartman said her union, the Ontario Nurses Association, has told her that after 12 years being employed by LHSC, she will be fired within a week. She said besides saving her job, a change in policy would address a nursing shortage and also allow other nurses impacted by the mandatory COVID vaccine policy to return to work.

The hospital’s CEO told the London Free Press that the hospital has a “special table” of various hospital groups that discuss the policy and its guidelines come from public health officials.

“Collective scientific evidence and individual protection of patients and staff are debated regularly,” Schleifer Taylor said. If a decision was made to change the vaccine requirements, she said that “it will be evidence-informed. There are a number of things at play.”

According to the Ontario Nurses Association (ONA), the province is short more than 24,000 nurses. The union has been grieving the mandatory vaccine policy. In October 2021, the ONA said it “supports education and addressing vaccine hesitancy, not penalizing and terminating nurses when we need them most. ONA also supports regular testing of employees as a measure that ensures safety of everyone, reassignment or other measures.”


In July 2022, two former LHSC employees filed separate wrongful dismissal lawsuits against the hospital, stating they were fired for refusing to get COVID shots. One of the workers was a 23-year employee working remotely from home as a support analyst, and was denied an exemption based on conscience and creed.

According to the law firm representing the woman, if an employer fires an employee for refusing COVID shots, they must provide a complete severance package to the staff member.

“What an employer can’t do is fire an employee ‘for cause’ if they fail to get vaccinated, as per the company’s policy. The company can’t use the failure to fully vaccinate against COVID-19 as a reason to dismiss someone, without compensation or the ability to collect Employment Insurance,” said Samfiru Tumarkin law firm in a statement. The firm said the employees seek a combined $700,000 in damages.
According to a report on Oct. 27, 2021, the hospital fired 84 staff, including nurses, for not complying with COVID shot mandates. Another LHSC nurse, Kristen Nagle, who worked in the neonatal intensive care unit, was fired with cause in January 2021, after speaking at an anti-lockdown rally in November 2020.

At the time, the hospital said in a statement, “After initially learning of actions involving an NICU nurse at London Health Sciences Centre that were not aligned with LHSC’s values back in November, immediate action was taken to place her on an unpaid leave pending the results of an internal investigation.”

“While we are not able to address the specifics of the investigation, we can confirm that the nurse has been terminated with cause,” said the LHSC. “Safeguarding the health of our patients and their families, staff and physicians is of the utmost importance and remains our top priority.”

The hospital only loosened some of its pandemic-related restrictions in April of this year. The same month, LHSCH raised the overtime pay rate for nurses from time-and-a-half to double-time, because the hospital is short 500 nurses.

“It’s clear the COVID-19 pandemic has entered a new phase and it’s time for a new approach to masking for patients, staff, physicians and visitors,” Dr. Michael Payne, an LHSC medical director, said in a statement at the time. Due to vaccinations and herd immunity, “our masking guidelines can be relaxed.”