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Some Central Texas healthcare workers quit, fired as vaccine mandates take effect

Published: Nov. 22, 2021 at 11:07 PM CST
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - Some Waco-area doctors and nurses are out of a job as COVID-19 vaccine mandates went into effect at two of the city’s largest hospitals last week.

One of the casualties is Shannon Farmer, a local nurse of 20 years.

“Why should I have to choose between a career that I love and taking a vaccine that I don’t feel 100% comfortable taking?” said Farmer. “If they start forcing us to do things with our bodies that we’re not comfortable doing...where does that stop?”

After being in healthcare for 21 years, Farmer has decided to leave the industry entirely in response to the pandemic-related mandates.

“I’m conflicted, obviously I went into nursing to help people, I believe the pandemic is real, I’ve seen many, many people die from it, I’ve taken care of many of them, but I’m disheartened, that’s the best work,” she said. “Patients have the right to refuse treatment by healthcare workers and providers, but then, if you’re an employee, that’s completely taken from you, they’re not allowing you to make those decisions for yourself.”

She says she’s not alone in getting out.

“I personally have known about 15 nurses that have left healthcare completely because of this,” said Farmer.

She says it’s a slap in the face to let go of the same people who worked tirelessly when the virus hit.

“We were ok to work 12, 16, 18 hours when this all came out with no vaccines, and now these are the very people that are being let go, that are being fired,” she said.

Until three months ago she worked as a nurse at Ascension Providence Hospital but quit when the mandate was announced.

Now she’s working for Coryell Health, however, as of next month, she won’t have a job there either when the emergency regulation from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services goes into effect which requires healthcare workers to be vaccinated at facilities funded by Medicare and Medicaid.

“I’ve been driving back and forth from Coryell Memorial in Gatesville, which I love, but with the CMMS guidelines coming down saying that Medicare/Medicare won’t reimburse unless you’re 100% compliant, they’re letting people go as well,” said Farmer. “I’ve loved working for Coryell, it’s just out of their hands now as well.”

Vaccine mandates for the largest hospitals in Waco went into effect last week: on Nov. 15 for Baylor Scott and White - Hillcrest Medical Center and Nov. 16 for Providence Hospital.

Officials at both hospitals refused to disclose how many doctors and nurses either quit or got fired as a result of the mandates, however, both said it wouldn’t have an effect on patient care.

“Most of our Ascension Providence associates have chosen to get vaccinated against COVID-19,” Philip Patterson, President of Ascension Providence, told KWTX Monday. “There have been no disruptions to care and we continue to provide high-quality, compassionate care to all whom we’re privileged to serve.”

BSW Health officials sent KWTX this statement:

Critical to our ability to delivering safe, quality care to the millions of patients who depend on us is the health and safety of our people. We remain committed to protecting patients, colleagues and communities through our fully vaccinated workforce policy.

As of Nov. 15, more than 99% of our workforce is now in compliance.

We have been focused on closing the gap. All Baylor Scott & White Health employees must receive both doses of the Moderna or Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, unless granted an exemption. Our culture of safety runs deep and so does our commitment as a large employer and trusted healthcare provider to take every measure to protect our patients, communities and each other.

We are committed to making the communities we serve healthier. Whether you are a patient, family member or employee, you can be assured that we have taken every measure to protect you.

We remain committed to protecting patients, colleagues and communities through our fully vaccinated workforce policy.

Due to the support from our workforce, we do not anticipate any staffing issues, and operations should remain normal.

We would like to thank our providers and staff, whose dedication to evidence-based infection prevention practices are the backbone of our efforts to continue serving our communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Farmer disagrees with both hospitals, saying there’s no way patient care won’t take a hit.

“It’s affecting quality of care, unfortunately, and that’s the part that upsets me the most,” said Farmer. “I feel like the number (of healthcare workers who’ve lost their jobs due to mandates) is higher than the general public would believe.”

Farmer says she’s not an “anti-vaxer”, she and her children have had their normal round of immunizations, however, she says this vaccine is different.

“Those vaccines have been out there and have been proven and show what the long-term effects are, I feel comfortable giving those for my children and taking those for myself,” said Farmer. “Something that’s only been given to people for 13 months...you can’t tell me what it’s going to to do me two, three, five years from now.”

The COVID-19 vaccine mandates are especially upsetting, she says, because of the nursing shortage nationwide, and the number of experienced nurses is dwindling.

“Baby boomers are moving out and hitting retirement age, so we’re already seeing a shortage in nursing in general, and now this is happening,” said Farmer. “On top of that, we have an entire population of nursing students who have been through school but never set foot in a hospital because of all of this.”

Governor Abbott has tried blocking “any entity in Texas” from mandating COVID-19 vaccines (without providing specific exemptions) through an executive order, and earlier this month the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit called President Biden’s federal vaccine mandate under OSHA “fatally flawed” and reaffirmed its decision to pause the implementation of the requirements.

The CMMS mandate is stricter, so it’s unclear if the appellate court’s decision applies.

Experts say the issue is likely headed for the Supreme Court.

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