JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Private companies requiring people to be vaccinated is a topic being debated across the country. Now it’s a debate that has taken to the streets in Jacksonville.
Dozens of healthcare workers from Ascension St. Vincent’s held a demonstration outside the Riverside hospital on Friday evening. They are opposed to a vaccine mandate that they must comply with by November in order to work for the hospital.
One demonstrator held a sign that read “Don’t fire our heroes” while others waved American flags.
Many demonstrators said they are not against the vaccine they just do not want to be forced to get it.
“I’ve had it, I’ve recovered. I have natural immunity. You don’t get to make that decision just because you’re my employer. I’m sorry,” said a St. Vincent’s employee who didn’t want to be identified. ““When somebody tells you hey you have to take the vaccine that’s like telling me what to put in my body and I’m not going to do that.”
Even if it means finding a new job.
“I’ve served the public. I’ve served this population just COVID for a year and a half and if I’m forced to and I don’t get the exemption I’ll find another career after 20 years of doing this,” the employee said.
But other hospital employees told News4Jax they hope that members of the group will change their minds.
Like other hospitals in Jacksonville, Ascension St. Vincent’s is seeing its numbers of COVID-19 patients drop from its peak over the last few weeks but it still remains very busy.
Rita Lenahan has been a nurse for nearly 40 years with experience in critical care. She said the most recent surge has been hard on health care workers. And while she’s been vaccinated she’s worried about some of those coworkers who are not.
“You don’t need politics just look at what’s happening in the hospital it will be an eye-opener for you,” Lenahan said. “I think we become such an entitled society that nobody is going to tell us what to do even if it’s for our own good. They only want to make the decision but by the time some of them make the decision it’s too late and I hope they don’t lose their life because they made the wrong decision too late.”
Ascension St Vincent’s released a statement Friday about the concerns of employees opposed to the vaccines:
“We respect the right of our associates to peacefully voice their opinions about the COVID-19 vaccine in a manner that complies with our policies and shows respect for our patients, visitors, providers and other associates. We must do more to help overcome this highly contagious virus. Like numerous health systems across the country, Ascension is moving to require our associates to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by November 12, 2021.”
St. Vincent’s said that the deadline goes along with the flu shot requirement that’s been in place for many years.
For Lenahan, going through this pandemic is bad enough but she is worried about the toll it’s taking on her profession
“Right now it’s unprecedented. In the 37 years that I’ve been in nursing with a critical care background to see the number of patients and the burden that is on the staff. Not just the doctors but the nurses,” she said. “Often time that patient, the only person they are seeing before they die is that nurse that is holding their hand. And I really feel like we are going to have a crisis of nursing and other medical professions having PTSD for having to go through this.”
Many of protesters outside the hospital Friday didn’t want to speak to News4Jax on the record but one member of the group released a statement:
“We are fighting for our freedom to either accept or deny medical intervention. Being employed with Ascension does not strip you of your constitutional rights; every person deserves bodily autonomy. There is more than one way to protect ourselves and our patients. Part of Informed Consent is knowing the alternative options, we are simply choosing a different path. Not only is this mandate unconstitutional, it directly violates the National Catholic Bioethics Center in which our CEO, Joe Impicciche, is a board member. How can an organization claim to be a “Catholic Health Ministry” while so blatantly participating in hypocrisy, manipulation, and coercion? This is wrong. We have repeatedly and unequivocally said “no”, and no means no.”