The largest hospital system in Georgia, Emory Healthcare, has scrapped Christmas Eve from its paid holiday calendar and added Juneteenth. Employees will now have to use paid time off to celebrate the December holiday.
The change, announced August 31, will also let employees earn extra holiday pay for working on Juneteenth—but not on Christmas Eve.
"We hope this will allow more opportunities for celebration, reflection, and education," Emory Healthcare CEO Joon Sup Lee wrote in an email to employees. "[D]iversity, equity, and inclusion at Emory Healthcare (EHC) is about creating an environment of true belonging for our patients and team members, while ensuring equitable outcomes for all."
The move came after Emory Healthcare solicited feedback on its holiday schedule, according to the email, which notes that patients can’t make clinical appointments on paid holidays. That policy appears to have fueled a zero-sum dynamic in which adding one holiday meant axing another.
"To minimize impact to patient care," Lee said, "we will not be adding another paid holiday to our calendars. Rather, beginning January 2024, we will remove Christmas Eve from our holiday calendar and replace it with Juneteenth."
Not everyone is happy about the new schedule. Hospital employees told Atlanta News First that the change would pit Christian and African American holidays against each other—and Edwina Clanton, the president of the NAACP chapter in Emory’s county, warned of anti-black backlash.
"I’m sure it will put anger in some hearts," she said. "Why do we have to do this?"
The new schedule could also leave the hospital short-staffed at one of the deadliest times of the year: Since 2021, Juneteenth weekends have been marred by mass shootings and other forms of gun violence, including at holiday celebrations across the country. In Chicago alone, gunfire over the three-day weekend killed 13 people this year.
Lee did not respond to a request for comment.