MACON, Ga. — On Saturday, community members marched in protest of the mandatory vaccine policy for staff at Atrium Health Navient.
The peaceful protest began at 10 a.m. on Poplar Street and part of the group walked to the hospital.
This comes weeks after the hospital announced that it would require all staff members to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
Travel nurse Melissa Wilkins says that the vaccine mandate has put an extra burden on healthcare workers.
"I believe that it is a mistake to mandate the vaccine. We’re already are short staffed, we were short staffed before COVID. There was a strain on healthcare before that this made it even worse," Wilkins said.
In a statement to 13WMAZ the hospital says it embraces open communication.
"Atrium Health Navicent has a long history of protecting the health of our patients, our teammates and the communities we serve. With the new and more contagious variants now causing hospitalizations to rise across our region, we are requiring teammates to be vaccinated against the virus. Science has demonstrated that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective and continue to save countless lives. Evidence has also shown that individuals who are vaccinated are less likely to become severely ill.
We greatly value all of our teammates who have shown such dedication to our patients, their loved ones and to each other during the pandemic, and we respect the rights of those who have chosen to have their voices heard in a peaceful and civil manner. Open communication is something we embrace at Atrium Health Navicent. We encourage our teammates to share any concerns they may have directly with their leaders if they have questions about our vaccination requirement.”
Atrium Health confirmed to 13WMAZ sister station, NBC Charlotte, that the more than 70,000 employees across its 40 hospitals will need to be vaccinated by Halloween.
They also sent the following statement to 13WMAZ:
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, Atrium Health has earned the trust of our patients and the communities we are privileged to serve for our COVID-Safe practices, designed to maximize patient safety and limit their potential exposure to the virus. With the new Delta variant being far more potent than the original virus, we view it as essential that each of our teammates receive their vaccination to protect themselves, their families and the people in their care.
These new variants are contributing to a 200% increase in hospitalizations – and, among our patients, 99% of those hospitalized in recent weeks have been those who are unvaccinated. This further illustrates the effectiveness of the vaccine.
We have started communicating to all of our teammates (including remote workers, physicians, medical residents, faculty, fellows, trainees, contractors, students/visiting students, members of the medical staff, temporary workers and volunteer staff) that they must be fully vaccinated or have an approved medical or religious exemption. By making the vaccine mandatory for our teammates, Atrium Health, including Wake Forest Baptist Health and Atrium Health Navicent, and along with multiple other health systems across the region, are taking reasonable steps to make sure that our teammates – many of whom remain on the frontlines, interacting directly with people who have COVID – are protected and available to care for members of the community as we deal with the next phases of the pandemic.
We view this vaccine no differently than our requirement for our teammates to get an annual flu shot, as well as be vaccinated for measles, chicken pox and other infectious diseases. The COVID-19 vaccine is essential to protect the health of our teammates and the communities we serve. We believe it is vital that we maintain the safest possible care environment for our patients and this is a critical component of our ability to remain COVID-Safe in the face of new variants impacting our region.”
Atrium Health also told NBC Charlotte that employees who fail to receive their vaccinations by Oct. 31 may receive counseling that could result in the termination of their employment. Medical and religious exemptions will be made on a case-by-case basis.
They said, “All teammates must complete their COVID-19 vaccine series or have an approved medical or religious exemption by Sunday, October 31, 2021. Teammates who do not follow this policy will receive counseling for failing to receive required vaccinations. This could result in consequences up to and including end of employment. We value our teammates who have medical or religious reasons for not receiving the vaccine and will evaluate these requests through a multidisciplinary committee.”