PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Some Legacy Health employees are just days away from being put on unpaid leave following their denial for religious exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine requirement.
Leah Peterson is one such health care worker.
She works directly with patients at Legacy Silverton Medical Center as a sonographer, performing ultrasounds. Her husband is also in healthcare but works for a different employer — the Samaritan Health system.
Peterson said they submitted identical letters citing their religious beliefs for why they don’t want the vaccine — and requested an exemption from the vaccine mandate.
His healthcare employer approved the exemption within a week, while Legacy Health denied her request 30 days later.
“Having no reasoning as to why it was denied definitely puts you in a spot of questioning the system who denied as to what they did for the last month,” Peterson told KOIN 6 News. “Was the letter even read? How could you not respond on a personal level to say, what, what was wrong?”
She received the denial on Monday and is left wondering if there’s a way she could clear up the issue.
Peterson has received other vaccines in the past, “but regardless of that, that’s also within your right to change your beliefs in life.”
The denial letter from Legacy said she did not meet the criteria of consistency (because she’s received vaccines previously) and specificity (clearly stating both the religious belief and how it is specifically against receiving the COVID vaccine.)
“We’re finding some people haven’t had any vaccines for 10-12 years and some, maybe in the last two years, so where was the line drawn?” she said.
Legacy Health did not respond to our request about the specific criteria compared to other hospitals. But officials did sayd 93% of their 14,000 employees are either fully vaccinated or have started their vaccine series. That means about 1000 employees are unvaccinated.
Peterson will be put on unpaid leave October 1, then fired by October 19 for being unvaccinated. She said she will choose to be fired.
“It’s more than just losing your job,” she said. “It’s changing your life from top to bottom without having any choice in the matter.”
The Oregon Nurses Association, representing employees like Peterson, said in part, “Blanket rejections are not only bad policy, but they also deepen staffing crises at hospitals across the state and ultimately impact quality of patient care.”
This comes as Legacy Health is temporarily closing four urgent care clinics starting tomorrow for the foreseeable future. Those locations are in West Linn, the Pearl District in Downtown Portland, Lake Oswego and Camas.
In a statement to KOIN 6 News, Legacy Health officials said:
“Our focus this week is to support employees who choose to get a COVID-19 vaccination to comply with the state requirements in Oregon and Washington and to protect the safety of our people, our patients and our communities.
“Legacy has completed a thorough review of all employee requests for medical or religious exceptions and has shared decisions with nearly all employees who requested an exception.
“Legacy’s number one priority is patient and employee safety. In anticipation of the potential impact to our staffing, Legacy has developed a series of contingency plans across all of our facilities to minimize the effect on patient care.”