Employees at a Staten Island, New York, hospital are protesting Covid-19 vaccination and testing requirements from their parent healthcare network, as the area leads the city in new cases per capita and as hospitals in the nation’s hotspots are overrun.
On August 16, Staten Island University Hospital, which is part of Northwell Health, started requiring employees to be vaccinated or face weekly testing.
Starting on September 27, the state will require that all health care workers have at least one vaccine except for those who have a religious or medical exemption.
A group of 100 or so people gathered outside the hospital last Wednesday to protest the new and impending requirements.
John Matland, a CT scan technician working at Staten Island University Hospital, has been one of the main organizers of the protest.
“For me, it’s personal choice,” Matland told CNN. “It has to be investigated and we’re not giving ourselves time to investigate … We’re just pushing this.”
“This needs a lot more time and a lot more studying and we’re putting it out on a scale that’s worldwide, and that to me, it’s not a wise decision,” he said.
The vaccines in use in the United States have been tested in trials for more than a year, and more than 200 million Americans have had at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine. On Monday, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine received full US Food and Drug Administration approval after months of it being administered under an emergency use authorization.
Northwell Health didn’t comment specifically on the protests.
“Northwell’s vaccination program, which focuses on educating our unvaccinated team members, has been successful in getting 80 percent of our workforce vaccinated,” said a statement from the hospital system.
“However, in order to ensure the safety of the patients and communities we serve, we will be now requiring all employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19,” Northwell said.
Staten Island has the highest number of new cases per 100,000 residents of New York’s five boroughs, at 222.62, according to city data. Citywide, the number is 149.81 per 100,000 residents.
Employees who don’t get tested in a timely manner will “face adverse action that could progress up to and include termination,” Northwell Health said.
“As New York State’s largest private employer and health care provider, we believe it is our obligation to set an example for the community by getting our team members vaccinated,” the statement said.
On July 28, Matland started a WhatsApp chat with some other healthcare workers who were against getting the vaccine. The chat continued to grow until they had to move to a different messaging platform due to the amount of participants, which lead to the demonstration outside the hospital.
Prepared to lose their job
Matland’s stance did not change after the FDA on Monday gave full approval to the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine.
“I need a lot more time and data,” he said. “The same time the FDA should have taken to fully research it.”
Health experts said it shouldn’t take full approval to convince vaccine skeptics after so many people have been vaccinated over so many months.
“For people who were wondering whether or not his vaccine was safe or effective, it’s already been given to half of the American population,” Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania, told CNN Monday. “You know that it’s safe, you know that it’s effective. You know that it’s been manufactured well.”
Matland says he and others are prepared to lose their jobs to stand their ground. He says currently four of six individuals in the radiology department are unvaccinated.
When asked if they were concerned about staffing shortages if they fired those who do not follow the policy, Northwell Health spokesman Joe Kemp said that the “concern for keeping our patients and employees safe by vaccinating our workforce outweighs concern over possible staffing issues.”
No employees have been terminated so far, Kemp said.
Matland was suspended without pay following an August 18 demonstration, a move he claims was retaliation for “calling them out.” He says that he was falsely accused by the hospital of unveiling a sign on the building that said: “We will not comply.”
Northwell Health confirmed that Matland has been temporarily suspended pending an investigation related to an incident “which posed a serious risk to our patients and staff.” A decision on Matland’s employment will be made after a “thorough investigation,” it said.
“SIUH [Staten Island University Hospital] continues to respect people’s right to free speech and to have their voices heard in a peaceful and civil manner,” according to a statement on the matter. “However, the safety of our patients and staff remains paramount.”
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