ST. GEORGE, Utah (ABC4) – Healthcare workers in Southern Utah are speaking out against Intermountain Healthcare’s latest vaccine mandate.
The mandate comes after a federal requirement announced by Joe Biden in September. Intermountain leaders say if they don’t follow the federal requirement, thousands of people relying on Medicare and Medicaid would be affected.
These first responders tell ABC4 they aren’t against the vaccine but want to protect their freedom. This is why they plan to hold a protest tomorrow in St. George.
“I get emotional when I talk about it, I’m sorry, but they’ve been working so hard for two years, taking care of patients and now we’re going to just send people out the door,” says Bridget Penick.
Penick has been a nurse practitioner with Intermountain Healthcare for the last 25 years and now says Intermountain will no longer schedule her to work after refusing to get vaccinated.
“I’ve personally taken care of many patients who’ve been vaccinated times two, and have had a booster and have come into the emergency department ill with COVID again,” says Penick.
According to information on Intermountain’s website, companies that contract with the federal government that employs more than 100 workers, and healthcare facilities participating in Medicare and Medicaid must require vaccinations to comply with President Biden’s COVID-19 action plan. Intermountain officials say about 80% of employees are vaccinated, but these healthcare workers are part of the unvaccinated 20%.
“I actually reached out to my boss, being a contracted employee, and asked where I have natural immunity, if natural immunity was going to be acknowledged. I was then met with the response, ‘We are assuming you are refusing vaccination. We will work on getting your shifts filled,” says Michelle Tanner.
Tanner, who is projected to be elected to the St. George City Council, is using her voice to support the 20%. She says that includes reaching out to county commissioners and legislative leaders.
“We don’t have the staff to take care of these patients in the community, now you’re telling me you’re okay with firing up to 20% of your staff?” asks Tanner.
“An illegal overreach of federal government to make a mandate of a medication that is still emergency use,” says Lindsey Guercio, an Intermountain ICU nurse.
Guercio is spearheading a protest outside of the St. George Regional Hospital on Saturday afternoon, saying she wants to be a voice for caregivers who are afraid of retribution.
“I already feel it in my unit that I work in. Because I’m not vaccinated, I am discriminated against,” she says.
“But I’m not going to get the vaccine, so I may be let go in January. I’m not sure, I haven’t talked to my manager yet, but I guess we’ll see what comes of that,” says Danielle Ollis, a respiratory therapist at Intermountain Healthcare.
Vaccinated nurse practitioner, Stacy Welker, wanted to protect her husband who has underlying health conditions. She says Pfizer’s vaccine gave her adverse effects. Welker plans to attend Saturday’s protest because she believes the vaccine isn’t for everyone and the mandate is unconstitutional.
“I don’t see that the federal government will pull back, you know, once they do this, where does it end? Where does it end for the federal government to overstep their bounds and infringe on our rights as Americans?” asks Welker.
“This is a vaccine that, regardless of how great it is, we have one year of data on humans now,” says Tanner. “It has to come down to an individual’s choice to weigh risks versus benefits for themselves.”
Intermountain Healthcare officials tell ABC4, caregivers can apply for exemption from the COVID-19 vaccine requirement for a medical condition or religious belief, but employees refusing to follow the federal order will be let go.
Intermountain Healthcare’s spokesperson, Jess Gomez, provided ABC4 with this statement:
“This decision to require COVID vaccination for caregivers was made carefully and thoughtfully to meet the vaccine requirement issued by the Biden administration, OSHA, and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, for employers with more than 100 employees, companies that contract with the federal government, and healthcare facilities that treat Medicaid or Medicare patients. All three directly impact Intermountain Healthcare.
To not remain in compliance with the federal government would put at risk healthcare access for hundreds of thousands of people that Intermountain serves who rely on Medicare and Medicaid. Some of the most vulnerable in our community – including underserved populations, the elderly, and children – would not have their care covered.
For many rural communities who already have limited access to care, that result could be devastating. Remaining compliant with the federal government rule will enable us to continue to care for patients in our communities and help keep our caregivers as safe as possible, which is critical to our mission.”