A Kamloops doctor who was fired by Interior Health after refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19 has failed in her bid to return to work at Royal Inland Hospital.
B.C.’s Hospital Appeal Board (HAB) has ruled that Dr. Theresa Szezepaniak knew refusing the vaccine would “render her unable to meet her service obligations” to IH. The board found the health authority did not challenge the doctor's right to refuse the vaccine and was within its rights to "hold her accountable" for that decision.
Szezepaniak was hired as a hospitalist at RIH in March of 2020 — right around the time the COVID-19 pandemic was declared a public health emergency in B.C.
According to a HAB decision dated Nov. 20, Szezepaniak refused the vaccine in 2021 and did not obtain a medical exemption.
She has not worked at RIH since October of 2021. Her hospital privileges were officially revoked by IH’s board of directors in August of 2022.
Szezepaniak appealed that revocation last fall, arguing she is ready and willing to work and has not “refused or neglected” anything.
According to the HAB decision, Szezepaniak applied for an exemption from Dr. Bonnie Henry’s office in October of 2021, alleging “an unjustified violation of her rights and freedoms” under the Charter. Her request was denied.
In November of 2021, RIH’s chief of staff sent an email to all unvaccinated medical staff at the hospital outlining three options to move forward — they could resign their hospital privileges, they could get an exemption from Henry’s office or their matter could go to IH’s board.
Szezepaniak replied saying she would not be “blackmailed of coerced into receiving an experimental injection.” She also threatened to sue IH and urged the RIH chief of staff to “thoroughly examine your conscience and act with great moral courage.”
A few days later, Szezepaniak sent a pseudo-legal “notice of liability” to a senior IH manager in charge of credentialing.
“The appellant testified on cross-examination that she felt that it was her civic and moral duty to inform [the manager] that, by being party to enforcing the vaccination mandate, they were coercing her and could be personally liable,” the HAB decision states.
In her appeal, Szezepaniak argued RIH needs all the doctors it can get. She asked IH to exempt her from her obligations until Henry’s order requiring all healthcare workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 is no longer in effect, rather than revoke her privileges — which she said she found to be humiliating.
She also argued IH is required to respect her decision to not be vaccinated, and the revocation of her privileges fails to do that.
The HAB dismissed Szezepaniak’s appeal.
“IH has not challenged the appellant’s right to decline the COVID-19 vaccination or the beliefs that led her to that decision,” the board wrote in its decision.
“IH has, however, held the appellant accountable for the foreseeable consequences of her decision which adversely impacted IH. In doing so, IH has not disrespected the appellant’s right to make a healthcare decision or exercise her Charter rights.”
The board ruled IH should have suspended Szezepaniak’s privileges rather than cancel them, but found that those credentials would have not been renewed given her inability to work due to her vaccination status.
Szezepaniak told the HAB hearing she was unemployed for two months in 2021 and has since taken a job as a family doctor at a clinic in 100 Mile House.