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Protest in Olean over looming vaccine mandate for healthcare workers

Posted at 11:42 PM, Sep 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-25 09:42:00-04

OLEAN, N.Y. (WKBW) — An infringement on personal liberties, that's what dozens of protesters in Olean think of the state healthcare worker vaccine mandate. That mandate, for many hospitals, goes into effect on Monday.

“It's compliance, that's an issue. It's the loss of choice that's an issue,” said Charity Lowry, a social worker at Olean General Hospital.

Joy Baker was at the protest at Lincoln Park. As cars honked in support near the city’s busiest roundabout, she explained her decision to leave Olean General Hospital. She didn’t wait for the mandate to go in to effect.

“It is 100% because of the vaccine mandate. I said, I don't want to go. I was there for 36 years,” said Baker.

Others at the protest are hoping something changes over the weekend, before the mandate for at least one dose of the vaccine begins.

“I'm going to give it my all. I'm going to love my patients like every other day and pray my heart out. I don't want to leave,” explained Paula Ferri about showing up to work on Monday. She is a nurse at Olean General Hospital.

With hospitals across the state already dealing with worker shortages, medical professionals at the protest worry about staffing issues when they're told they can't work.

“It's terrifying to me what's going to happen, the waits in ERs, the lack of care, the long waits for bells to be answered. It's terrifying,” said Lowry.

Friday, Olean General Hospital reported 88% of their staff has received at least one dose of the vaccine.

“We are going to be in a world of trouble and I do not know what New York State is thinking because would you rather not have staff in hospitals at all, and have people dying because of lack of staff? Or would you rather have health care workers that could possibly be tested weekly, wearing masks, taking precautions and caring for your loved ones,” said Rachel Ponka, a registered nurse.

Most doctors agree, vaccination is your best option to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"Over the last 18 months, we have had over 1,400 (patients) with COVID. Of those, 140 have died. That's 10% of the patients admitted with COVID had died. We have not had a single admission of a complication with a vaccine. And there has been millions of vaccines administered here, we haven't had anybody die of the vaccine,” said Brian Murray, the chief medical officer at the Erie County Medical Center.