Hundreds of healthcare workers in Southwest Washington continue to mobilize against the mandates
A slew of protests and rallies, big and small, took place across Vancouver over the past couple of days and weeks, in response to COVID-19 vaccine requirements for employees.
Ranging in size from a thousand protestors on Sat., August 7 to approximately 150 at Esther Short Park on Friday (Aug. 27), crowds of healthcare workers and their supporters have gathered to make the public aware of their plight. Many local employees face termination for their choice to decline a COVID-19 vaccination and PeaceHealth employees have the earliest deadline, today (Sept. 1).
PeaceHealth Southwest and Kaiser Permanente announced COVID-19 vaccine requirements for their employees on Aug. 3, followed closely by Gov. Jay Inslee’s statewide mandate for all healthcare workers and state employees on Aug. 9. Immediately, hundreds of healthcare workers in Southwest Washington began to mobilize against the mandates.
“For me, this is about defending the right to work whether you are interested in taking an experimental injection, or not,” said Palmer Davis, a Clark County resident who leads a local, grassroots group called Waking Up Washington. Davis helped facilitate protests at area hospitals and hosted a rally in Olympia on Aug. 13, followed by the Friday rally at Esther Short Park. “This movement is uniting people from various industries and medical freedom groups across the state and the public response is largely supportive.”
At Esther Short Park, Vancouver healthcare workers like respiratory therapist Angela Wallace, shared personal stories about their commitments to bodily autonomy and special guests like Cowlitz County Rep. Jim Walsh (Republican, 19th District) spoke to the crowd.
“I am a single mother of three daughters,” shared Wallace. “One of my daughters suffers from epilepsy and requires significant medical support and medications. LegacyHealth is threatening termination and the loss of critical health insurance if I do not comply with the mandate. I have worked with Covid patients this entire pandemic and have protected myself and others by using proper PPE and by maintaining my personal health. This mandate is a violation of personal risk assessment and personal health freedom.”
In a recent email to Legacy Health employees, a deadline of Sept. 30 was given in demands for compliance, with the threat of unpaid leave or termination “on or about October 19, 2021.” The email acknowledged recent reports of bullying of unvaccinated staff in the workplace and said such actions would not be tolerated.
Legacy Health did not respond to requests for comment.
“The governor’s mandate to force vaccinations on state workers is an abuse of his emergency powers,” Rep. Walsh shared on his Facebook page. “This should be a personal, individual health care decision, not a choice forced by the government.”
As the largest employer in Southwest Washington, an estimated 700 to 900 PeaceHealth employees are impacted by today’s deadline. Whereas other hospitals like Kaiser Permanente have accepted and accommodated religious and medical exemptions and even extended deadlines for their employees, PeaceHealth has not.
“They have made no attempts at reasonable accommodations for exempted employees, including staff that tried the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and suffered an anaphylactic reaction,” stated Melissa Kolb, a PeaceHealth employee of 29 years. “Housekeeping, supplies, and caregivers are at an all-time low and PeaceHealth is willingly putting the community at risk because of their hard position on this mandate.”
The Washington State Nurses Association (WSNA), which publicly stands by the COVID-19 vaccine mandate, has made multiple attempts to negotiate with PeaceHealth over its unilateral implementation of its vaccine requirement, including its decision to place non-compliant nurses on unpaid leave of absence on Sept. 1, 2021. The union filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board when PeaceHealth stopped responding to them.
According to PeaceHealth employees, whether or not they have filed religious and medical exemptions, some unvaccinated personnel have already been asked to turn in their badges and told they are not allowed on campus. Laptops have been asked to be returned by physicians, and managers have taken caregivers off the schedule.
“PeaceHealth is not allowing any of us an opportunity to earn an income and it is rumored we may not qualify for unemployment,” shared Kolb. “They have also stated in their Frequently Asked Questions about the policy, ‘staff will be subject to disciplinary action’ who do not have an approved exemption. They are not allowing employees to pay themselves out of their earned Paid Time Off accounts.”
PeaceHealth did not respond to requests for comment.
At yesterday’s protest in front of Kaiser Permanente on Mill Plain Blvd, retired Kaiser employee, Rebecca, stated, “I am here to support anyone who is about to lose his or her job. The idea that hospitals should terminate significant portions of their specially-trained staff over this mandate is unconscionable. Perhaps we should all say, ‘Heroes work(ed) here.’”
Jessica Hofer Wilkinson is a freelance writer, home educator and mother of four and nursing home chaplain. She resides in Clark County.