IRVINE, Calif.—A group of nurses in Southern California have banded together with an attorney working pro-bono to help health care workers navigate the tricky legal hurdles regarding possible exemptions to the state’s vaccine mandate.
“On September 30th, if you’re not fully vaccinated, you are subject to termination and or other disciplinary action, suspension, and so on,” attorney Tom, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, told The Epoch Times.
The nurses, who also asked for anonymity, cited concerns about their careers, business associates, families, stressful work conditions, as well as fear of a hostile “cancel culture” mentality they say surrounds them daily.
“Gov Newsom’s mandates are creating a disaster across the state for countless individuals, which is quickly leading to the deterioration of our constitutional rights, medical privacy/freedom rights, bodily autonomy, and patient and family’s rights in their time of need,” said a nurse we have called Jane, via email.
“There are egregious restrictions and rules on patient’s families, like wrist bands for the vaccinated and an inability to visit without a COVID negative test for the unvaccinated,” she wrote.
“We are collectively shocked, in extreme duress, and with mounting stress as each day passes.”
Tom said the level of intimidation, coercion and bullying being experienced by those seeking vaccine exemption at many health care institutions, is creating intolerable workplace conditions, not just in Orange County and Los Angeles, but across the state.
Employees at every level have shared their stories with him, and “the panic, fear, anger and confusion emanating from those discussions was palpable,” he said.
On Aug. 5, Dr. Tomás J. Aragón, director and state public health officer with the California Department of Public Health, released an order requiring all state employees and volunteers providing services or work in health care facilities must be wholly vaccinated no later than Sept. 30.
The order by Aragón applies to nurses, nursing assistants, physicians, technicians, therapists, phlebotomists, pharmacists, students and trainees, contractual staff not employed by the health care facility, and persons not directly involved in patient care, but who could be exposed to infectious agents.
Health care facilities affected by the order include general acute care hospitals, clinics and doctor offices, skilled and subacute nursing facilities, intermediate care facilities, acute psychiatric hospitals, adult day health care centers, all-inclusive care for the elderly, ambulatory surgery centers, chemical dependency recovery hospitals, congregate living facilities, dialysis centers, hospice facilities, pediatric health and respite care facilities, and residential substance abuse and mental health treatment facilities.
The order states that workers may be exempt from the vaccination requirements if they can provide the operator of the facility a declination form, signed by the individual stating either that the worker is declining vaccination based on religious beliefs, or that the worker is excused from receiving any COVID-19 vaccine due to qualifying medical reasons.
In order to be eligible for the latter, a worker needs to provide their employer with a written statement signed by a physician, nurse practitioner, or other licensed medical professional, indicating the probable duration of the worker’s inability to receive the vaccine.
In response to the order, Jane, a Southern California-area hospital critical care nurse sent The Epoch Times an email stating that she and many others in her field were deeply concerned about the severity and consequences the new mandate was having in the workplace.
“The reason I am writing to you is to expose the impact of these state vaccine mandates on us (hospital name removed) and fellow nurses/health care workers across California,” Jane wrote.
“In short, there is mounting discrimination, mishandling of exemptions and accommodations, and discussions in the workplace leading to hostile work environments, coercion and harassment from upper management regarding vaccinations and PCR testing options,” Jane said.
Jane and another nurse we have called Sandra, told The Epoch Times how “by the grace of God,” they were connected with local civil litigation attorney Tom, who listened to her concerns, as well as others from a large group of employees at her hospital who needed help in interpreting state and federal laws dealing with religious exemptions.
Tom and his legal team helped numerous college students facing similar civil rights issues as universities began resuming classes earlier this year, but the implications of the mandate on health care and first responder sectors took the issue to a new level.
After analyzing the situation and conducting additional research, Tom offered to volunteer his time pro bono to help the group, hosting many Zoom presentations, answering questions, and giving guidance at no charge.
Since the nurses began working with Tom, they believe a medical freedom movement is now spreading among health care employees within workplaces and via social media, which has expanded to include police and other first responders in counties all over California.
“Several nurses from different hospitals have now joined to spearhead the workload,” said Jane. “We are helping to manage the influx of panicked HCWs (health care workers) with exemptions and questions.”
While the state mandate allows for medical and religious accommodations, Tom said many in the medical industry are being discouraged from providing exemptions related to the vaccine.
“Physicians are under the threat of their board, that if they allow them [exemptions], they’ll have their license investigated and possibly have their license taken away for non-compliance,” Tom said.
He said, “the medical community has wiped it [the option] out, so the medical exemption process, which is written into the order as a potential exemption to the mandate, is really non-existent.”
For those whose faith influences their decision-making process, religious freedom is at the core of a complicated issue that includes the very nature of how vaccines are developed in the first place, said Tom.
Many vaccines, not just for COVID-19, have historically been developed with testing using fetal cell lines, sometimes referred to by the media as “immortal” tissue, harvested and multiplied in labs from long-ago aborted human fetuses. The fetus cells do not exist in the vaccines administered to patients; they are only used to test or develop them.
“The crux of the religious conflict is between the vaccine and a mandated work requirement, and the requirement and its effect on people’s sincerely held religious beliefs,” Tom said.
“Most religions in general hold the sanctity of life as sacrosanct. It is about the highest of foundational beliefs,” he said.
“The idea that you’re going to benefit from the taking of a life, that’s a legitimate conflict for many, and that’s what we are trying to educate people about, so that they can make an informed decision without fear of retaliation, harassment or losing their job.”
One nurse we have called Sandra, said that even with her extensive education and work experience, she wasn’t aware that vaccine development involved the use of fetus material until two years ago.
“This isn’t something that we are even told in nursing school, and it’s a significant ethical dilemma for Christians,” Sandra told The Epoch Times.
According to a Reuter’s Fact Check from April 1, 2021: “The Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines used fetal cell lines in their testing stages. Johnson & Johnson used a human fetal cell line called PER.C6, developed from the retinal cells of an 18-week-old fetus aborted in 1985 in its production and manufacturing stages.”
“These fetal cell lines are not taken from recent abortions but are derived from decades old fetal cells. These cells replicate over decades in laboratory settings, thousands of times removed from the original fetus cells, becoming known as fetal cell lines.”
As a Christian, Sandra said it was stunning to learn about vaccine testing on fetal cells of aborted babies, regardless of how old the cells were.
A Health Care Provider’s View
In a separate inquiry, the Epoch Times contacted local health care providers about their vaccine exemption policies and received the following email response from MemorialCare Health System spokesperson Richele Steele:
“As a trusted healthcare provider in the community, MemorialCare has a responsibility to do all that we can to provide the safest environment possible for our patients, physicians, nurses and other staff members. Without them, we cannot fulfill our mission to provide high quality care to the communities we serve. We are tremendously grateful to and supportive of all our nurses, technicians and other providers who have performed so admirably and selflessly during the pandemic.
“The data unequivocally show that COVID-19 spread prevention measures begin with vaccination, and that is why the many State and local County orders are requiring all healthcare workers to receive their final vaccine dose by September 30, absent an approved medical or religious exemption.
“The vast majority of MemorialCare’s staff members are vaccinated, and we are providing every opportunity for those who aren’t yet vaccinated to comply with the requirement or seek an appropriate exemption. Any employee who has not met the MemorialCare, CDPH and local county vaccination requirements by September 30 and who has not been approved for an exemption will initially be placed on unpaid leave to allow them some additional time to comply.
“If they choose not to comply after that point, then they are not permitted under the State and local orders to work in our patient care settings, so they will not be able to maintain their employment with MemorialCare.”
Reaching Out for Help
As the situation unfolds, the nurses say many applications for religious exemptions submitted as required by employers are being denied.
“We’ve been getting emails from nurses that say ‘Help 911,’” said Jane.
“The application I personally saw was beautifully written, included her Christian beliefs, Biblical verses all up and down, and they denied it within four hours,” said Sandra.
Tom said some of the denials are based on “faulty legal grounds.” He cited the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protect employees and job applicants from employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin, and other traits. That protection includes employment decisions, such as recruitment, selections, terminations, and other decisions concerning terms and conditions of employment.
He said while some organizations are processing applications in line with FEHA and Title VII protection, many are not, which he believes is a violation of employee rights.
“The case is pretty clear, that a sincerely held religious belief of an individual is just that,” Tom said.
“It’s not reliant on confirmation or affirmation from a pastor or priest or from some spiritual leader. You don’t have to testify to the frequency of attending services. Some of the questions employers are including in the applications are very intimidating and they’re designed to make employees think that they don’t have a belief, that they can’t stand behind their beliefs.”
Sandra also shared her experiences helping process exemptions: “I specifically had quite a few nurses reach out to me yesterday who have experienced exactly what you are describing. They get a questionnaire with things like ‘who is your pastor, how often do you go.’”
“They (employers) want them to write a paragraph about their religious belief, there was so much on this form they have to fill out that they are feeling overwhelmed by it, they just feel defeated right off the bat and on top of that, this specific nurse told me they’re testing them in front of staff, in front of patients, almost belittling them,” Sandra said.
“This nurse was in tears over it and didn’t even want to go to work because she was humiliated.”
Tom said his next step will be to help workers push back on these types of denials.
“There are certain facilities that have more denials than others. They’re doing it with greater frequency, so we’ll be sending letters to them next week identifying for them that their analysis is wrong and they’re violating the law.”