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Dec. 4, 2021

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Legacy puts 794 workers on leave systemwide

Hundreds protest vaccine mandate outside medical center; jobs could be lost on Oct. 19

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
5 Photos
Medical staff placed on administrative leave and those against a vaccination mandate gather during a protest outside Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center on Friday afternoon. According to Legacy, 794 unvaccinated employees were placed on leave beginning Friday.
Medical staff placed on administrative leave and those against a vaccination mandate gather during a protest outside Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center on Friday afternoon. According to Legacy, 794 unvaccinated employees were placed on leave beginning Friday. (Photos by Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Hundreds of people filled the sidewalks outside Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center on Friday afternoon to protest the first day that unvaccinated staff had been placed on leave.

Thursday marked the deadline for Legacy Health’s employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or to get a medical or religious exemption request approved. Those who did not comply were placed on unpaid administrative leave beginning Friday and could lose their jobs Oct. 19.

According to Legacy, 794 of its employees systemwide were placed on leave. Of those 794, Legacy said, 180 employees have received their first dose of the vaccine and can return to work once fully vaccinated.

Eligible to be rehired

As of Friday, the hospital system said 94 percent of its staff was fully vaccinated.

Spokesman Ryan Frank said staff and patient safety is Legacy’s top priority and that employees will be eligible to be rehired if they choose to get vaccinated.

“All of our 14,000 caregivers have worked tirelessly to care for our patients and the community throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” Frank said. “For all of our health care workers, we cannot express our gratitude enough. Their contributions and sacrifices are too many to be measured. We are deeply grateful for their service and their contributions to Legacy.”

Greg Michael, a registered nurse at Salmon Creek, held a sign Friday outside the hospital. His request for a religious exemption to the vaccine mandate was denied. He was joined Friday by his brother, Gavin Michael, and his 9-month-old son who was born at Legacy.

He was disappointed that the hospital that he called “a great place to work” would lay him off after he’d volunteered his time there for years before being hired as a nurse.

“If they would take me back, I would,” he said. “If things get reversed, I want to come back.”

Gavin Michael called it “disheartening” to watch his brother go to school and work hard to get his position at the hospital, only to lose his job less than a year after he started.

‘Nursing is my dream’

In the message to employees whose religious exemption requests were denied — which some employees shared with The Columbian — hospital leadership said their requests were denied on the basis of consistency — whether they’ve received a vaccine before — and specificity of their religious beliefs.

But a trio of staff from the women’s services department said they don’t think it should be up to their employer to determine how serious they are about their religious beliefs. They picketed outside the hospital Friday after being placed on leave before they lose their jobs in two and a half weeks.

Erica McClure said she is now looking for somewhere else to work and anticipates moving out of the area in order to find a hospital that will grant her a religious exemption. She has worked at Legacy for eight years.

“I just have to follow my nursing dream wherever it takes me now,” she said. “Nursing is my dream, and I’m not giving it up.”

The hospital’s website also lists services that are being consolidated because of staffing. The Legacy Lab Patient Service Center locations in Camas, Beaverton, Ore., Lake Oswego, Ore., and West Linn, Ore., are temporarily closed in order to move staff to other locations. Salmon Creek Medical Center is consolidating its ultrasound services, according to Legacy.

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