As California imposed a strict vaccine mandate for all health care workers, nurses in Orange County that stood on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic fear they will lose their livelihood for refusing to get vaccinated.
For 17 years, nurse Dave (a pseudonym), has served at MemorialCare Saddleback Medical Center in Laguna Hills.
When California’s Department of Public Health (CDPH) announced in early August that health care employees would need to be vaccinated by Sept. 30, Dave, along with other unvaccinated nurses, began to worry about what their employment status would be after Oct. 1.
“These are nurses that have busted their butts—crying, … getting hit, punched, [and] kicked, for the past two years, and just very brutal conditions,” he told The Epoch Times. “When everyone, to be honest, was sitting at home, in isolation, these girls were kicking butt, taking care of COVID patients with lack of supplies and all the mystery of what’s going on—and now they’re just being kicked to the curb.”
Dave is currently a clinical supervisor that overlooks an acute care floor with about ten staff members. Every day, he hears from multiple nurses on his floor and at other MemorialCare centers about their concerns about the vaccine mandate and harassment occurring within their workspace.
“I’m having staff calling me crying because they’re pregnant, and they don’t want to take the vaccine,” he said. “Essentially, because of the state mandating crazy last-minute mandates, we’re being tested now twice a week, and they still have not said if we’re going to have a job come Oct. 1.”
While the pressure to receive the vaccine is applied to health care employees, Dave said the higher-ups are blaming the unvaccinated staff for the current spike in COVID-19 cases.
“It’s one of the hardest things, and I know all of our staff really care for all the patients,” he said. “Nursing is a really tough job. It is very stressful, and to have that message put out not only really just stomped on my heart, but then it began to empower other people to yell at the unvaccinated.”
Dave, along with other unvaccinated staff have been yelled at by doctors and other staffers, he said, creating a difficult environment to work in.
“This is a hostile workplace,” Dave said. “It’s a very tough environment to work in, and people essentially are going to walk out. Not only because of that environment, but they don’t want the vaccine.”
On Aug. 25, the staff of MemorialCare received an email regarding information for those choosing to remain unvaccinated. To be eligible, health care workers will have to file a religious or medical exemption by Sept. 1. MemorialCare will then determine whether the exemption is approved or not.
While the email clarifies questions from the unvaccinated staff, there is still confusion over what constitutes a medical exemption.
A first-trimester pregnant nurse who works with Dave requested a medical exemption but she was denied.
Dave said his boss is begging him to get a religious exemption to avoid the possibility of losing his employment status once the deadline arrives.
As the date draws near, Dave said his co-workers who are beginning their careers remain nervous about losing pay and health benefits for themselves and their families.
“If that’s what the hospital is requiring, I’m more than happy to step aside, but there’s a lot of people that are going to do the same thing and they’re done with nursing,” he said. “I don’t know how it’s going to be with flu season coming up, and this is just my hospital. I can’t imagine what’s going on around the state.”
While the consequences for health care workers without exemptions are unknown, the possibility of a COVID-19 virus spike in late fall brings the concern of a larger nurse shortage, Dave said.
As many health care workers are facing stress amid rising COVID-19 cases and the pressure to get vaccinated, Dave encourages workers to contact Resilience in Stressful Events (RISE) provided by Johns Hopkins Hospital to receive mental health care from a psychiatrist and psychologist.