By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
Health care workers are being questioned by their employers about their decisions regarding the coronavirus vaccine, several told legislators on Tuesday.
Two employees from the Washakie Medical Center, a Worland facility owned by Banner Health, shared their experiences with members of the House Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee who were reviewing three bills proposed for consideration during the Legislature’s special session on federal coronavirus mandates.
Jacob Power, a Washakie Medical Center X-ray technologist in Worland, told the legislators about being called into his manager’s office multiple times to be questioned about whether or not he would get a COVID vaccine.
“I simply told them at that point in time that they do not have the right to ask me that, as that is my personal decision,” Power said. “The people that are working above me, they have no right to look into my medical record without my permission, but that’s exactly what’s happening.”
Later, he told his bosses that he would seek an exemption from receiving the vaccine, but that his employers did not have the right to question him about his decision.
The special session is being held to chart Wyoming’s response to the vaccination mandate proposed by the administration of President Joe Biden. Under the mandate, which has not yet taken effect, federal employees, health care workers and employees at companies employing more than 100 people would have to get the vaccine or be tested for coronavirus weekly.
The committee was studying three of six bills proposed regarding the mandate. One would prohibit employers from requiring COVID vaccination as a condition of employment, unless certain conditions are met. Another would require employers to grant exemptions from the mandate requested by employees and the third would require severance pay for employees who are fired or quit because of the mandate.
Banner Health, one of the largest U.S. health system employers, is requiring its employees to be vaccinated against the coronavirus by Nov. 1 to keep their jobs. The organization announced this mandate in July.
Banner Health operates multiple health care facilities in Wyoming, including the Wyoming Medical Center in Casper and clinics in Torrington, Wheatland, Guernsey, Douglas, Worland and more.
No other Wyoming-owned hospitals or health care systems in the state have implemented a vaccine mandate, although some, such as Cheyenne Regional Medical Center, have created incentive programs for employees who do get vaccinated.
Banner officials said the company is implementing the requirement for several reasons, including the rise of the Delta variant of coronavirus, the need to protect its patients and workforce and to prepare for flu season.
Lorena Stewart, another Washakie Medical Center employee, told the legislators that she had requested a religious exemption from the vaccine, but it was denied. This was the first time in her 17 years of working at the medical center where she has been denied a vaccine exemption. she said.
“I’ve been a born-again Christian since the age of 8,” she said. “I think everybody was shocked when my request got denied. They want us to jump through these hoops, they didn’t want to make it easy.”
Stewart said that up until the last couple of months, she has loved working for Banner Health, but the vaccine mandate has completely changed the atmosphere.
Mary Lynee Shickich spoke as a representative for Banner Health in Wyoming and noted that of Banner’s 1,629 employees in Wyoming, about 160 had not yet received a COVID vaccine. However, she noted that there were processes in place to keep those employees on until the end of November.
Lance Porter, CEO of the Wyoming Medical Center, stated that the company is implementing the mandate due to the fact that the hospital is a resource that the community relies on to be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“We have the obligation to make sure we can staff the beds and make sure we have providers to provide the care that is needed,” Porter said. “I guarantee you that anybody who works in health care got into it to help other people. Regardless of where you fall on the vaccine mandate, we want to help people.”