Nurses leave Aspen hospital after vaccine refusals

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The mandate to vaccinate all staff at Aspen Valley Hospital is almost fully respected by its employees, but a handful of them will not roll up their sleeves as they have said it would betray their personal beliefs rooted in the faith.

Three future ex-employees of the public hospital, in interviews this week, said their work at AVH would be officially finished after Sunday, AVH’s deadline for staff to be fully immunized. Despite the hospital’s stated position that it would grant exemptions to employees citing religious beliefs or medical reasons, if they are found to be valid, the three nurses said they were fired because AVH denied their requests for ‘exclusion.

Nancy Melville Bacheldor is one of those employees. Nurse for 38 years in Aspen, including the last 26 years as a midwife, Bacheldor said her superiors warned she would lose her privileges to work at AVH from last Monday due to her refusal to do so. vaccinate. The notice came after Bacheldor submitted a form and letter to AVH explaining his religious and medical reasons for requesting an exemption, she said.



“I absolutely love what I do,” said Bacheldor, 60. “I love my patients and I feel bad that I cannot provide a service to them. … It breaks my heart not to be there for them.

Bacheldor said she led a healthy lifestyle but had an aversion to vaccines. She received her last vaccine, a Tdap vaccine, in 2016 for protection against diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus. Bacheldor said she suffered from shortness of breath and fever within 24 hours of the injection. The health risk posed by a vaccination, along with her spiritual beliefs and non-denominational Christianity, should have been enough for her to receive an exemption, Bacheldor said.



The hospital in the first half of September announced vaccine requirements as a condition of employment; employees had until Oct. 31 to get a full vaccine or face layoff. As of Thursday morning, 98.5% of the hospital’s payroll, or about 520 employees, had been vaccinated, according to AVH CEO and President David Ressler.

There are eight non-compliant staff members in total, four of whom work as needed, he said.

The decision to fire the employees rests with a hospital board of five to six clinicians that “involves doctors and staff,” Ressler said. An employee requesting an exemption has received medical clearance and is regularly tested for COVID-19, he said.

“The committee made the call,” Ressler said, expressing confidence that the committee’s decisions were made impartially and fairly after careful consideration of the exemption requests before them.

“I can’t speak to their specific deliberations, but they did a lot of research and were very thoughtful in their discussions with each case,” Ressler said.

Ressler was also unable to speak specifically about employee exemption requests as these are personnel matters with privacy protection.

“The process was designed to be fair and impartial and I can’t speak for more than that, but in terms of long-time members of our medical staff… it’s heartbreaking,” he said. “It’s heartbreaking and I have no words to describe it. They made their decision and I respect it and it’s heartbreaking for them, and it’s a very sad time.

Aspen Hospital modeled its policy on that issued by the Colorado Board of Health, which, at the behest of Governor Jared Polis, adopted an emergency requirement on August 30 that all licensed healthcare personnel in the hospital The state must be vaccinated before November 1.

That mandate required Aspen Valley Hospital to assure the state that all of its employees were fully immunized, Ressler said, “because our license is granted by the state, and so that’s what’s at risk – our. license – and potentially a fine or other remedy if we violate this rule.

Signs posted outside Aspen Valley Hospital thank staff for their hard work on Tuesday, April 14, 2020 (Kelsey Brunner / The Aspen Times)

“Very ironic” situation after the fight against the pandemic

The three nurses said their stay at AVH ended after meeting the demands of the pandemic, and now they are being shown the door because they will not be vaccinated. Face covers are part of the job, so they mask themselves on a regular basis, they said, also explaining that they are not so-called anti-vaccines.

“It’s very ironic that the same healthcare providers who were supposed and urged to care for patients who may or may not have COVID after a year and a half have suddenly become unsafe in caring for patients,” said Jeanne Johnson, who left AVH after more than 15 years in obstetrics.

She added, “I have kept my beliefs about vaccines totally to myself. I did not criticize the employees who were vaccinated; I haven’t asked anyone for their immunization status. I didn’t judge anyone. And most of my coworkers weren’t aware of my immunization status until I was laid off. I believe I have the right to choose what is the best medical decision for my body.

The decisions of the hospital commission were informed in part by report by Vanderbilt University concluding that most organized religions are not opposed to vaccines, “but some have considerations, concerns or restrictions regarding vaccination in general, particular reasons for vaccination or specific ingredients of the vaccine.”

The Vanderbilt report cited opposing denominations such as the Dutch Reformed congregations, Faith Tabernacle, Church of the First Born, Faith Assembly, Endtime Ministries and Church of Christ, Scientist.

The three nurses said they practiced non-denominational Christianity, and although they could have joined one as Ministries of the End to be granted an exclusion, they did not consider this scenario because it would be spurious.

“My spiritual belief is that my body is a precious vessel of God that I will be available to heal myself, that I don’t need a vaccine to help with that,” said Krista Cashin, who worked at AVH at over the past three years. as a lactation consultant, a role in which she helps postpartum mothers feed their newborns.

“I have a hard time with that as a nurse because I don’t believe I would ever give the vaccine to someone who doesn’t want it,” she said. “I don’t think we have the full picture, and one of the first things we learn as a nurse is to do no harm. I don’t think at the moment we have enough information to vaccinate people, so that’s another reason my nursing career might end.

Cashin, 62, said she had been a nurse for 38 years, as had Bacheldor.

Bacheldor and Johnson said they have financial flexibility that allows them to find other employment, although they view nursing as their professional livelihood. However, other AVH workers opposed to the vaccines were forced to get bitten so they could keep their jobs and feed their families, they said.

“Nancy and I both feel blessed that we were able to make a decision that suited our faith,” Johnson said. “A lot of people don’t have that freedom, and they’re forced to do something medically, ethically, or morally that they don’t think is right for them.”

Individual freedoms and the laws in force

Some workplace laws protect employees from health care mandates, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Yet a U.S. district judge ruled on September 24 that A health care employer in Cincinnati, who was suing his vaccine for workers, was within his legal right to adopt and enforce the policy.

“If an employee thinks that their individual freedoms are more important than the legally permitted conditions for their employment, that employee can and should choose to exercise another, no less important individual freedom – the right to seek another job,” he said. American district. David Bunning wrote in his ruling.

And more than a century ago, in 1905, the United States Supreme Court upheld a smallpox vaccination warrant in Massachusetts.

Litigation pending elsewhere includes a discrimination lawsuit alleging that the University of Colorado Medical School’s vaccine policy discriminates against people of faith, as well as a lawsuit against the NorthShore University HealthSystem over the course of its mandate.

Bacheldor and Johnson said they did not seek to prosecute, but believed that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act might apply to their situation.

Title VII “does not protect social, political or economic views, or personal preferences” and “objections to COVID-19 vaccination that are based on social, political or personal preferences, or non-religious concerns concerning the possible effects of the vaccine, are not considered as “religious beliefs” under Title VII ” according to the guidelines of the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission published Monday.

Guidance noted that employers may request more information from employees seeking exemption from a vaccination policy on religious grounds, while assuming workers are sincere about their beliefs.

“The EEOC guidelines explain that the definition of religion is broad and protects beliefs, practices and observances with which the employer may be unfamiliar,” said the guideline. “Therefore, the employer should normally assume that an employee’s request for religious accommodation is based on sincere religious belief, practice or observance. However, if an employee requests religious accommodation and an employer is aware of facts which provide an objective basis for questioning the religious nature or sincerity of a particular belief, practice or observance, the employer would be justified in doing so. request additional support information. “

Bacheldor and Johnson said they gave detailed written explanations of their religious exemptions, but believed their exits were imminent before their requests were considered.

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