Joseph Steininger is preparing to seek new employment after his request for a COVID vaccine exemption was denied by Legacy Health.
PORTLAND, Oregon – Legacy Health employees who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 and have not been granted an exemption will be placed on administrative leave starting Friday.
In the coming weeks, these employees could lose their jobs altogether.
Joseph Steininger is one of those employees. A certified nursing assistant at Legacy Health Meridian Park Hospital in Tualatin, Steininger has been CNA for 14 years and enjoys his job.
“I like being able to help people get better and brighten their days and being able to be there, to help nurses,” Steininger said.
It’s a job he’s about to lose. Joseph is not vaccinated against COVID-19 and does not plan to be vaccinated. He said it would go against his religious beliefs.
“I have a very strong belief that if I feel like I shouldn’t be putting something in my body, I shouldn’t. This goes for marijuana. It goes for alcohol,” Steininger said.
Steininger has asked for a religious exemption from the COVID vaccine, even citing postings on his form.
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“In the Romans, it’s about not eating anything that goes against your conscience and it would be similar to injecting something into your body,” he said.
Under the Oregon Health Authority’s vaccination rule and Legacy’s own policy, healthcare workers must provide proof of vaccination or provide a medical or religious exemption.
Currently, 93% of the approximately 14,000 employees of Legacy Health are vaccinated.
Joseph has still not been vaccinated and is one of hundreds of Legacy employees whose exemption requests were denied.
Many Legacy employees who requested religious exemptions received an email Monday saying they would be put on administrative leave starting Friday – unless they receive the COVID vaccine.
But Steininger feels his request was not addressed directly.
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“It doesn’t make sense. As it says, they had a panel that looked at [the exemption requests] all individually, but they can’t give me an individual answer? “said Steininger.
Earlier this week, the Oregon Nurses Association (ONA) released a statement criticizing Legacy’s move, suggesting it could exacerbate a growing workforce crisis.
“Oregon’s vaccination mandate allows for medical exemptions and deeply held religious beliefs and general rejections are not only bad policy, but they also exacerbate staffing crises in state hospitals and ultimately have a impact on the quality of patient care, ”said ONA.
The ONA said 18 nurses in the labor and delivery department at Legacy Silverton Medical Center were threatened with dismissal – nearly half of that department’s staff.
But Kecia Kelly, senior vice president and chief nurse at Legacy Health, said ONA was wrong. Each exemption was reviewed by a panel of experts and there were no general rejections.
“I’m actually saying that’s not true. What we did was we looked at each individual case and maybe we felt it was a blanket denial. because we had to inform many people that they did not receive these exemptions, but it was all due to our commitment to patient safety and our willingness to make sure our employees had time to make a decision informed to get vaccinated, ”Kelly said.
It is not known how many religious exemption requests, if any, were approved by Legacy.
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KGW asked ONA Director of Communications Scott Palmer and Board Chair Lynda Pond what they thought of Legacy’s explanation.
“It seems a little surprising to me because our field staff at Legacy Silverton haven’t heard of a single nurse who submitted a religious exemption and had that exemption approved. bit the definition of a general rejection, “said Palmer who went on to say,” we obviously think there are cases where these exemptions should be treated seriously and should be granted. “
The ONA said the problem is bigger than the workers who lose their jobs; it is also the additional stress and workload placed on nurses who keep their jobs.
“What I really want to stress is that this is not just the mandate, it is the real impact of COVID. It is the real impact of the constant shortage of staff by hospitals over the years. Last 10 years and nurses just hit their peak, ”Pond said.
The immunization mandate for healthcare workers comes at a time when nurses are scarce nationwide.
Legacy officials are hoping the remaining unvaccinated workers will change their minds, but many, like Joseph, are ready to go.
“I’m going to lose my job because of this if this doesn’t change… At the same time that I believe I’m not supposed to take this vaccine, I believe God will provide another way,” Steininger said.
Legacy said it is currently using contract workers and has slowed down elective surgeries to deal with staffing issues.
Many Legacy GoHealth locations have temporarily closed. Officials we spoke to don’t know how long these closures will last.
For Kelly, the vaccine requirement was necessary and the near universal membership of staff is a source of pride for the organization.
“We will have one hundred percent of our care providers who will be vaccinated and we will be able to care for patients in our community. This is something we are very proud of,” said Kelly.
LOOK: Here are the approved vaccine exemptions for the COVID vaccine