Monterey Medical Workers Protest Vaccine Mandates Ahead of State Vaccination Deadline

By Cynthia Cai
Cynthia Cai
Cynthia Cai
September 28, 2021 Updated: September 28, 2021

MONTEREY, Calif.—Approximately 100 people, including hospital staff, their families, and other community members, held a rally in Monterey, California, on Sept. 26 to express their opposition to vaccine mandates.

The Oct. 1 deadline is approaching for California health care workers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Hospital staff at the rally shared their stories as to why they choose not to or cannot be vaccinated.

Elizabeth Sims, a registered nurse at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula (CHOMP), is pregnant and is choosing to remain unvaccinated to protect her unborn child. She recounted her experiences as one of the nurses working the hospital floor when the pandemic first hit.

“At the beginning of the pandemic … I was one of the first to volunteer to take COVID patients. Most of the people on my floor did not want to take COVID patients; they declined,” she told The Epoch Times.

Sims cared for patients who were on room air (not receiving any extra oxygen) and did not require specific treatment.

“I think the sad part about all of this is for those of us who were on a COVID unit, taking care of COVID patients, on the front lines … now we are the ones getting fired,” said Sims. “Definitely feeling betrayed, definitely feeling undermined.”

Another registered nurse at CHOMP, Amy Landry, said she contracted COVID-19 while working at the hospital. She said the hospital did not provide her with N-95 masks while she cared for a COVID patient on New Year’s Eve.

“The PPE [personal protective equipment] stuff was changing daily: ‘Do you have to wear a N-95; you only have to wear a N-95 when you take care of patients that are on high flow; oh, you don’t have to do that anymore.’ It was changing every time we went into the hospital,” Landry told The Epoch Times.

She said five days after caring for the patient, she tested positive for COVID-19, and she is still recovering from lingering health impacts.

Multiple nurses and staff mentioned a lack of PPE and N-95 masks for first responders at the beginning of the pandemic.

Sydney Smith, a hospital technician, filed for a medical exemption, which is still under review. He described how he received one dose of the vaccine but experienced cardiac complications.

“Two day[s] after the vaccination, [I had] cardiac issues: pressure, stabbing pain, and shortness of breath. You know, I like to work out, I like to stay active, my family and I, and it got to the point where it was affecting that,” Smith told The Epoch Times.

He said he went to the emergency department to get treated and now has a cardiologist to monitor his cardiac issues. Smith’s cardiologist signed his medical exemption request and advised him not to receive a second dose, which could be fatal for him.

Some staff have requested religious exemptions. Multiple nurses and hospital administrative staff said that they have strong religious faith and do not wish to take the vaccine, which they say goes against their beliefs.

“I’ve also put in for a religious exemption, because I sincerely believe that it is wrong to be forced to do this and that the state mandate allows me to wear masks and get tested twice a week, like I am now,” said Theo Gibson, locksmith for the Engineering Department at Montage Health.

Some staff mentioned that the state order allows exempt employees to continue working.

“It’s so sad that we’re having to test, but the vaccinated aren’t having to test. And they’re having mild symptoms and they’re still coming to work,” Estreya Pelayo, senior administrative assistant at Montage Health CHOMP, told The Epoch Times.

Nurses also expressed concern for the hospital’s future staffing capabilities.

“By forcing us to go through with this mandate, and choosing our livelihoods or getting the shot … they’re actually forcing the quality nurses out of nursing,” Sarah Huseby, registered nurse at Montage Health CHOMP, told The Epoch Times.

She expects the hospital will likely recruit staff from other states or new graduates.

Approximately 60 to 70 hospital employees are now filing a lawsuit against Montage Health over its vaccination policies.

“We’re trying to support each other in different ways. …We are also trying to stand up for our rights, so we have engaged an attorney. The attorney is currently the one that is in communication with Montage,” Christine Kinkade, clinical educator at Montage Health CHOMP, told The Epoch Times.

Epoch Times Photo
People hold signs calling for freedom of choice during a rally protesting vaccine mandates in Monterey, Calif., on Sept. 26, 2021. (Cynthia Cai/The Epoch Times)

Montage Health’s Policies

Per the California Department of Public Health’s Aug. 5 order, Oct. 1 is the deadline for California health care workers to be fully vaccinated. Staff with exemptions would be required to get tested weekly for COVID-19 and wear N-95 masks to continue working in health care facilities.

However, Montage Health, based in Monterey, has a stricter policy.

In an email to The Epoch Times, Montage Health stated: “Those who work remotely and applied were granted the exemption, and those that do not work remotely have been granted a six-month leave of absence.”

It explained that staff who are pregnant will be “offered a leave of absence with full medical benefits” and are “welcome to get vaccinated and come back to work after their maternity leave is over.”

Montage Health CEO Dr. Steven Packer stated: “We are grateful for the dedicated service provided by ALL of our staff members, [sic] however It is imperative that 100 percent of our staff working at our facilities after October 1 are fully vaccinated to ensure the highest level of protection of our patients, our workers, and our community.”

The hospital also acknowledged that pandemic-related burnout is a real concern, and the hospital is now recruiting to fill vacancies. Around 200 of the roughly 3,250 hospital staff remain unvaccinated.

Cynthia Cai