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Healthcare workers can no longer apply for religious exemptions from COVID-19 vaccine

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Posted at 5:44 PM, Dec 06, 2021

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Erika Mihalics is a registered nurse at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center who said her job is in jeopardy due to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

“I’ll lose all my retirement, I’ll lose any seniority, I’ll lose my pay, I won’t be able to be a nurse in NYS,” Mihalics said.

On October 14, Mihalics received an email that said she has been granted full approval for religious exemption and may continue to work. The email also stays a condition for approval is weekly testing.

“We are all agreeable to weekly testing,” Mihalics said. “We are not opposed to that at all. We want to compromise with everybody, and we don’t want to pass this on to our patients.”

After court deliberation, at the end of October, the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals said religious exemptions are no longer appropriate. Roswell then sent an email to Mihalics that said she must have at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by November 30.

On November 15, all New York state hospitals received a letter stating those previously granted religious exemption must now have documentation of a first dose or a valid medical exemption, aligning with Roswell’s mandate.

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On Monday, Roswell Park told Mihalics that she is not terminated yet. She is suspended without pay effective Tuesday.

“Okay we have the vaccine, let’s get vaccinated, but a bunch of us were a bit hesitant because it’s all new,” Mihalics said.

“Every single individual who enters a healthcare facility should never have the fear they are going to contract COVID from the person charged of taking care of their health,” Gov. Hochul said.

According to the New York State department of health, 95 percent of hospital workers in Erie County have been vaccinated as of November 24. A week ago, Governor Kathy Hochul said she will not back down on the mandate.

“I can’t change a policy because of some individuals who made that personal decision,” Gov. Hochul said.

According to the New York State Department of Health, vaccine effectiveness against hospitalizations for adults between 18-64 is more than 86 percent.

But Mihalics said she wants concrete answers and evidence from Roswell.

“They’re saying don’t come to work but we’re not going to give you letter of termination, we’re not going to give you documentation.”

Roswell said the deadline for healthcare workers to be vaccinated is Monday at 5 PM. They said those who are not will be referred to disciplinary procedures, up to termination. Also beginning today, Roswell now requires proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test for all visitors.

Kaleida Health says they have terminated 100 employees who previously had a religious exemption. Their statement reads, in part:

"In accordance with New York State’s vaccine mandate guidelines for healthcare personnel, Kaleida Health today terminated 100 employees who had previously been granted a religious exemption and chose not to receive their initial vaccination dose by the State’s deadline of Sunday, December 5, 2021. Combined with the previous vaccine mandate deadline in November, approximately 200 personnel have now been separated from the organization.

Kaleida Health intends to remain open and provide access to services across the organization. We continue to add resources and post positions so that we can continue to be there for the community.

Given the reduction in workforce, the subsequent reduction in staffed beds, the significant rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations across our facilities, and the spike in COVID-19 cases in our region, Kaleida Health is proactively postponing non-essential elective inpatient surgeries at Buffalo General Medical Center and Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital."

Catholic Health says 185 employees remain unvaccinated. Their statement reads, in part:
"With its December 4 deadline passed for covered associates to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination or face termination, Catholic Health has begun the final phase of its compliance with the New York State COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate.

Catholic Health’s Human Resources team has been compiling the number of vaccinated associates, along with those who have filed valid medical exemptions or deferrals, to determine a final tally of staff who are not in compliance with the mandate. As of today, about 185 associates, or less than 2% of the health system’s workforce remain unvaccinated.

Any unvaccinated Catholic Health associate covered under the vaccine mandate who has not received a medical exemption or deferral, is being terminated based on the requirements of the state mandate."