The Perfect Enemy | NorthShore to settle vaccine mandate lawsuit • AbbVie sales drop • Senators question Walgreens on birth control
August 17, 2022

NorthShore to settle vaccine mandate lawsuit • AbbVie sales drop • Senators question Walgreens on birth control

NorthShore to settle vaccine mandate lawsuit • AbbVie sales drop • Senators question Walgreens on birth control  Crain’s Chicago BusinessView Full Coverage on Google News

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NORTHSHORE WILL PAY EMPLOYEES IN VAX MANDATE RELIGIOUS DISCRIMINATION LAWSUIT: NorthShore University Health System has agreed to a settlement of more than $10.3 million in an employees’ lawsuit that alleged the Evanston-based system unlawfully denied religious exemptions to its COVID-19 vaccine mandate, according to the law firm representing employees.

Conservative Christian law firm Liberty Counsel said the settlement was the first of its kind for health care workers fighting COVID vaccine mandates. The settlement, on behalf of more than 500 current and former employees, must be approved by a federal judge. 

NorthShore will pay $10,337,500, the statement said.

The health system did not reply to messages seeking comment. According to the settlement agreement, “NorthShore continues to deny all claims as to wrongdoing, liability, damages, penalties, interest, fees, injunctive relief and all other forms of relief, as well as the class allegations asserted in the action. This agreement cannot and will not be construed as an admission of liability on any claim or in any form against NorthShore.”

Liberty Counsel said the employees “were victims of religious discrimination, and who were punished for their religious beliefs against taking an injection associated with aborted fetal cells.” READ MORE.

ABBVIE’S IMBRUVICA SALES DROP IN SECOND QUARTER: AbbVie cut its full-year sales outlook on weak performance from cancer drug Imbruvica. 

Sales of the blood cancer drug declined 17% in the second quarter from the year-ago period, which the North Chicago-based pharmaceutical company attributed to the lingering pandemic and increased competition.

Imbruvica, which it gained through an acquisition in 2017, is one of AbbVie’s top-selling drugs, but it’s under threat from newer medicines from companies like BeiGene and AstraZeneca. Investors feared this could happen. Cutting the Imbruvica guidance “removes the key overhang” on AbbVie’s stock, Wells Fargo analyst Mohit Bansal said Friday in a note to clients. 

AbbVie also said it set aside more than $2.3 billion to resolve thousands of lawsuits accusing Allergan of mishandling its opioid-based painkiller Kadian. The company reported “a charge related to a potential settlement of litigation involving Allergan’s past sales of opioid products.” READ MORE. 

WALGREENS PRESSURED ON BIRTH CONTROL POLICY: Illinois Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth are putting pressure on Walgreens Boots Alliance to revise a policy they say allows Walgreens employees to refuse to sell contraceptives to customers based on workers’ religious or moral beliefs.

The two lawmakers sent a letter to Walgreens CEO Roz Brewer yesterday, inquiring about the policy and asking for a meeting. The letter follows reports that customers have been denied contraceptives at Walgreens locations, including a recent incident in Wisconsin.

Durbin and Duckworth asked Brewer to revisit the nationwide policy to ensure all customers’ privacy is respected and to provide more transparent direction and notice about which Walgreens stores offer full access to contraceptives.

As the policy stands now, Walgreens allows employees to refuse to sell contraceptives to customers if it conflicts with their personal beliefs. However, employees are required to refer customers to another worker who can complete the transaction, according to Walgreens spokesman Fraser Engerman. Employees who need a religious accommodation must seek approval through a formal process with the company. Engerman says the policy abides by federal law under the Civil Right Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on religion, race, color, sex and national origin. Archrival CVS Pharmacy reportedly has a similar policy to Walgreens. READ MORE.

SENATORS SECURE BIOMEDICAL RESEARCH FUNDING: Illinois Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth have been busy.

Durbin and Duckworth have announced over the last two weeks that the Department of Health & Human Services will distribute more than $23.3 million to Illinois institutions for biomedical research. Most of the funding will go to Chicago-area universities and health systems.

Grant funding for the various institutions includes:

• Northwestern University in Chicago got more than $10 million for about 16 projects.
• University of Illinois at Chicago received more than $4.3 million in nine grants.
• University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign received more than $3.2 million from six grants.
• University of Chicago: $3.1 million in five grants
• Rush University Medical Center nearly $1.5 million in two grants.
• Midwest University received one grant for $726,426.
• Illinois State University got one grant for $213,867.
• Rosalind Franklin University received one grant for $491,427.

“Federal investments in medical research pushes our society forward, bringing us new treatments for the serious conditions that touch all of our families in one way or another,” Durbin said in a statement. “Illinois’ world-class research institutions will make good use of this federal funding to make devastating diseases like cancer, ALS or heart disease more treatable.”

The funding is part of the March 2021 American Cures Act, which provides annual budget increases of 5% plus inflation at America’s top four biomedical research agencies: the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, the Department of Defense Health Program, and the Veterans Medical & Prosthetics Research Program, the senators said in a statement. 

FUNDS COMING TO MATERNAL HEALTH, TOO: Durbin and Duckworth last week also said that the Illinois Department of Public Health has been awarded a total of $5,339,317 in federal funding from HHS. 

The funds will support IDPH in identifying, reviewing, and characterizing maternal deaths, developing new treatments for pregnancy and postpartum complications, and identifying prevention opportunities.

“Think about what the maternal mortality crisis means in human terms,” Duckworth said in a statement. “Think about how many daughters will grow up with their mothers by their sides, or how many little boys will get to have their moms teach them to tie their shoes if we confront this. This federal support for the Illinois Department of Public Health is an important push that could help address this crisis.”

PRITZKER SIGNS ORDER CREATING OPIOID SETTLEMENT OFFICE: Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed an executive order Friday to establish an Office of Opioid Settlement Administration to distribute money Illinois is being awarded through various settlements with pharmaceutical companies. READ MORE.

Among three recent nationwide settlements, Illinois is poised to receive at least $760 million over the next several years. Pritzker said at a press conference announcing the order that all the money will go to remediation and abatement programs throughout the state, including Chicago.

The new department, which will be housed within the Illinois Department of Human Services, is designed to build upon existing Illinois programs aimed at addressing the opioid crisis. Over the past several years, Illinois has worked to expand medication-assisted recovery and other treatment programs, as well as the availability of Narcan, a drug otherwise known as naloxone that treats opioid overdoses.

The additional funding for treatment programs will be needed, too. Northwestern University professors are predicting that the already record high opioid-involved overdose deaths that the nation is experiencing will only keep rising, perhaps exponentially.

ABBOTT APOLOGY: WHAT TOOK SO LONG? In an opinion piece penned by Tom Corfman, an attorney and senior consultant with Ragan Consulting Group, the author dissects the long road taken by Abbott Laboratories from its February infant formula plant shutdown to chairman and CEO Robert Ford making an apology in late May.

“The carefully crafted apology was widely picked up by other news media,” Corfman writes. “However, by that time, the shortage and Abbott had become nearly synonymous. The North Chicago-based medical products company also faced criticism by members of Congress and questions about when its executive knew about safety lapses at its Michigan plant near the Indiana border. Persistent inquiries about the Food & Drug Administration’s fumbled response helped feed stories about the shortage and Abbott’s role in it.

Abbott missed an opportunity when Ford didn’t show empathy from the start. One of the first rules of crisis communications is to quickly take responsibility—and apologize, when appropriate—especially when the crisis involves a company’s core function, like product safety.”

INVESTIGATION FINDS OTHER INFANT FORMULA MAKERS HAVE FOUND DANGEROUS BACTERIA AT OPERATIONS: Cronobacter sakazaki, the bacteria that was among the factors leading to the shutdown of Abbott Laboratories’ Sturgis, Mich. baby formula plant has also been found at other companies’ factories, according to an ABC News investigation.

The discovery of the bacteria at the Sturgis plant prompted Abbott to issue a voluntary recall in February, one of the many causes of a nationwide infant formula supply crisis.

ABC News found that within the last five years that infant formula manufacturers Mead Johnson, Gerber, and PBM have also had operational and contamination-related concerns.

The investigation looked at FDA inspections and found Cronobacter in environmental sampling, in critical and high-hygiene areas, and even in finished product from some of the companies’ American plants, ABC News said.

LONG COVID COULD BE SIDELINING 2.4% OF THE WORKING POPULATION: A Brookings Institution researcher looked at survey data from the Census Bureau, the Federal Reserve Bank and the medical journal the Lancet to estimate that some four million full-time equivalent workers could be out of work because of long COVID, NPR reports.

Given ongoing labor shortages coming out of the pandemic, long COVID outages may play a significant role in the state of the economy.

“That is just a shocking number,” said Katie Bach, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution. “That’s 2.4% of the U.S. working population.”

The Biden administration has issued guidance confirming long COVID can be a disability and relevant laws would apply. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act employers must offer accommodations to workers with disabilities unless doing so presents an undue burden.

IDPH OFFERS ANTIGEN TESTS TO LONG-TERM CARE FACILITIES: The Illinois Department of Public Health is offering free, one-time bulk shipments of rapid COVID-19 antigen tests to all interested and eligible long-term care facilities in Illinois. 

The shipments are in response to the increased community transmission of COVID-19 across many Illinois counties, the IDPH said in a statement. They must be used on-site and are intended to supplement the existing testing program that facilities are required to conduct. The IDPH has 250,000 tests to share.
 
Facilities must meet the following criteria:
 
• A federal waiver that allows for the administration of antigen testing.
• A provider order for antigen testing that has been approved and signed by a medical professional.
• Be registered to report all positive antigen test results to the State of Illinois.

The deadline to apply is August 9.

PEOPLE ON THE MOVE

The Chicago-based The American Board of Medical Specialties has elected new members to its board of directors.

Those elected to the ABMS board were:

• Dr. Michael L. Carius, chair, of the American Board of Emergency Medicine,

• Dr. Rebecca L. Johnson, chair-elect from the American Board of Pathology,

• Dr. Susan M. Ramin, secretary-treasurer from the American Board of Obstetrics & Gynecology,

• Dr. Larry A. Green, immediate past chair from the America Board of Family Medicine,

• Donald J. Palmisano Jr., public member, who is chief executive officer of the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy,

• Dr. Thomas E. Read from the American Board of Colon & Rectal Surgery.