PORTSMOUTH — Honks, cheering and bells could be heard in Portsmouth, as employees of Southern Ohio Medical Center and other supporters of health care workers stood with signs protesting a policy that SOMC recently put in place.
On Aug. 5, 2021, SOMC announced after recommendations from 56 health care organizations including the Ohio Hospital Association, American Medical Association and American Nurses Association – as well as local medical and scientific experts, Southern Ohio Medical Center was requiring all employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by September 17. While the policy does have exceptions, employees and other community members do not think it should be mandated.
SOMC health care workers and their supporters stood at all four corners of Cole Boulevard and Shawnee Road Monday with signs hoping to find alternatives to the SOMC policy and to share what they believed with the community.
“We are standing for our freedom,” protest organizer Amy Conlon said. “Our freedom of choice. Whether we want the vaccination or not, it doesn’t matter. We’re all here for freedom.”
Conlon shared that she believed that SOMC wanted to be one of the first in the area to have bragging rights with 100 % compliance. She also stated she believed the deadline for Sept. 17 for all employees to get vaccinated was so they could dictate bonuses that are given out in October.
“There hasn’t been enough proof or evidence that this vaccination is safe,” Conlon said. “They can preach it’s safe all day, but as far as we know and seeing what we have seen firsthand and with our own eyes, it’s not as safe and effective as they are saying.”
While Conlon said she will not be getting the vaccine, she shared that she has no problem with others who have received the vaccine.
“More power to you. It’s your choice, your freedom,” Conlon said.
As protesters stood in the heat with their signs, many cheered as cars went by, hoping to bring awareness to their cause and rally community support. Many drivers honked their horns in support of the health care workers and supporters as they drove by.
“The community response has been pretty positive so far,” Conlon said. “We have had a lot of good feedback, a lot of honking and waving and a lot of people protesting with us.”
The Portsmouth Daily Times reached out to SOMC about the protest and received a statement from the hospital.
“At SOMC, we fully support the rights of individuals to express their views and beliefs. That is why we sought out input from staff before determining a policy regarding the COVID-19 vaccine. It also why our policy has always included exemptions based on medical history as well as religious or strongly held personal beliefs,” the statement read.
SOMC shared that the vaccination policy was not a condition for employment and that the hospital offered other options if an employee did not want to get vaccinated. SOMC also shared currently, 73.9% of SOMC employees were already vaccinated.
“We respect their right to make their own personal decisions, and that is reflected in our policy. SOMC has never stated that receiving the COVID-19 vaccine was a condition for employment. Rather, we only require those who are not vaccinated be tested to confirm they are not COVID-positive. We understand this is a source of frustration for some, but we will always prioritize the safety of our patients, many of whom are immunocompromised,” SOMC said in the statement.
For those who do not get vaccinated, SOMC shared they will be tested for COVID on a regular basis to make sure they are not carrying the virus and can care for their patients in a safe manner.
“As health care workers, we have an obligation to do everything we can to protect the health of our patients. We believe that means taking reasonable steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19. While we strongly encourage being vaccinated against COVID-19, we have also clearly communicated the process by which those who decline can still safely care for patients. Our patients deserve to know they’re receiving care in a facility that puts their health and safety first, and we will continue doing everything we can to meet that expectation,” according to the statement.
Other hospitals within the state have also put in place vaccination policies including Kings Daughters Medical Center, OhioHealth, Nationwide Children’s Hospital, and the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
Reach Adam Black at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1927, or by email at email@example.com.
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