Valley View vaccine holdouts brace for inevitable, as hospital prepares to move forward
A full 97% of Valley View Hospital’s 1,200 workers are now vaccinated for protection against COVID-19 ahead of the Thursday deadline imposed in late August, hospital officials say.
But a group of about three dozen holdouts who expect to no longer be employed at the hospital today — or in the case of local gynecologist Dr. Cindy Hall won’t have privileges to use hospital facilities — aren’t going quietly.
Several impacted employees and supporters plan to stage a “rally for medical freedom of choice” outside Valley View at 11 a.m. Friday morning. A similar rally took place Aug. 30.
Hall, who has her own private practice in Glenwood Springs but has an agreement with Valley View to perform surgeries and other procedures there, said this week that she and many direct hospital employees were denied their religious- and/or medical-based requests for a vaccine exemption.
In her case, Hall said it was suggested by the hospital that she request an “administrative leave” so that her future ability to reinstate privileges or seek privileges elsewhere are not impacted.
She’s busy going through that process, and also is being tested for a possible medical exemption should she be allergic to any vaccine ingredients.
In the meantime, she said her “wings are clipped” in her ability to serve her patients and has had to postpone several procedures that were scheduled well into the fall months.
“I’ve spent my career helping women get pregnant and successfully carry and deliver a healthy baby.
“(The vaccine) is not something I can support, because it’s not in my belief system,” said Hall, who describes herself as a born-again Christian.
Hall’s opposition, as well as others who’ve sought religious exemptions, is based on the use of decades-old fetal cell lines from past abortions in the development of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Hall and others view it as a violation of their religious and personal freedom regarding this particular vaccine and aren’t anti-vaccine in general.
Valley View declined to immediately answer several specific questions posed by the Post Independent, including how many exemption requests were received, granted or denied, and its criteria in making those decisions.
CEO Dr. Brian Murphy did provide the following statement late Tuesday.
“Currently, 97% of our staff have chosen to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, and more are scheduled to receive the vaccine this week,” Murphy said in an email. “Valley View will continue to provide excellent care to our community at all of our facilities with no disruption in services.”
Valley View’s mandate that all of its employees get vaccinated for COVID-19 by Sept. 30 came at the same time the state of Colorado required all health care workers who have direct contact with patients be vaccinated. The state on Friday did modify its directive, saying that health care facilities that achieve 90% vaccination of their staff will not have to let unvaccinated workers go.
Policies differ from hospital to hospital, including Valley View, which mandates 100% compliance, unless a worker exemption is granted.
Some facilities are granting certain exemptions, while others have been less inclined to do so in the interest of providing greater protection from disease spread within the hospital setting.
“As a health care organization, it is paramount that we do everything we can to provide high quality care to our patients in a safe environment,” Murphy said at the time the policy was announced. “The COVID-19 vaccines offer the most effective way to protect our patients and staff from the virus and variants.”
Taking a stand
While Hall said she can continue to practice through her own clinic, more than 30 hospital workers who’ve chosen not to get vaccinated and were denied exemptions will be out of a job come Friday.
Amanda Betts works as an administrative assistant to the pharmacy and respiratory therapy directors. She said she also sought a religious exemption on Sept. 1 and was denied two weeks later.
Betts said she and others received a stock response unrelated to their specific reasoning for the request, and only indicating that their decision to remain unvaccinated would “present an undue burden to the hospital” in ensuring they don’t come in direct contact with staff and patients.
“I even provided a letter from my church, signed by our head minister,” Betts said, offering that she virtually attends the Rez (Resurrection) Church based in Loveland.
“I just believe that my body is the temple of God, and I don’t want to put anything in it that could harm or kill me,” she said.
Betts said she plans to join the rally on Friday. She, too, said she isn’t anti-vaccination in general but is among those who don’t trust the quick rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine and is leery of potential long-term impacts.
She added that it’s been a difficult few months with what she believes to be discrimination against the unvaccinated.
“We’ve all been compliant in wearing masks since it had been required, doing health check-ins every day and getting tested (for COVID-19) every week,” Betts said. “We’ve been keeping patients safe for a year and a half, and now they’re saying we can’t continue to do it that way.”
Joshua Peters works at Valley View as a physician’s assistant in orthopedics, and put in for both a religious and medical exemption. He said both were denied.
“I have some personal medical issues going on that I thought was enough to warrant an exemption,” he said, adding he even had a signed letter from his local primary care doctor recommending the exemption.
He said his personal religious beliefs also stand against taking the COVID-19 vaccine.
“There have been zero answers to our questions and no discussion about our concerns,” Peters said. “There are hospitals all over that are allowing exemptions and figuring out a way to make it work. What they’re doing here is unethical and immoral.”
Worker shortage worries
Peters said he believes the burden on remaining staff brought by the loss of fellow workers, against the backdrop of an ongoing labor shortage, will be greater than accommodating unvaccinated employees.
Tracy Turner of Carbondale, who has worked at Valley View’s Roaring Fork Family Practice Clinic and as a case manager on and off for five years, agreed.
She said she was placed on administrative leave ahead of the deadline to become vaccinated after covering weekly shifts at the clinic and hospital since January. She believes it was because she was pressing to get questions answered about the vaccine policy and exemption criteria.
Turner said she was advised that if she got vaccinated she could return to work. She is choosing not to and may seek another career.
“Hospitals seem willing to sacrifice the care that they give over this, and that’s the real burden the community is going to face,” Turner said.
Recently, she said Valley View employees were informed that they would be receiving a $500 bonus in November in thanks for their hard work during the pandemic. Turner said that was later clarified to say employees had to be vaccinated and still with the hospital by then to qualify.
“It was like, ‘thanks for all your hard work this past year, and there’s more hard work ahead,’” Turner said. “Then to say they are only rewarding people for vaccine compliance is just a slap in the face, like the hard work we did for the last year doesn’t matter.”
Valley View also didn’t respond immediately to questions seeking to confirm the bonus offer or answer questions about impacts on custodial staffing, which is a contracted service, or how the hospital plans to replace the workers who will likely be leaving.
Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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