Unvaccinated CA surgical tech says she's being placed on unpaid leave despite medical exemption

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ByKate Larsen KGO logo
Friday, October 1, 2021
Unvaccinated surgical tech's future unknown as mandate takes effect
Despite the high levels of compliance, there are still some California health care workers who feel they can't get the vaccine.

California was the first state in the country to announce all health care workers must be fully vaccinated. Sept. 30, is the deadline for that mandate.

There is very high compliance among Bay Area health care providers.

  • Stanford Medicine says 97% of its workforce is fully vaccinated
  • UCSF says 97% of their employees in San Francisco and at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital have had at least one vaccine dose
  • Sutter Health says 92% of its employees and 97% of its affiliated providers are vaccinated
  • Kaiser Permanente says nationwide 90% of their employees and 97% of their physicians are vaccinated

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Despite the high levels of compliance, there are still some health care workers who feel they can't get the vaccine and now may not have a paycheck until they do.

"I definitely feel like I'm between a rock and a hard place," said surgical technologist, Megan Broadstreet, who is unvaccinated.

Because she's unvaccinated, her employer - Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital - said she'll be placed on an unpaid leave of absence.

"I sacrificed time with my family to help my community, I sacrificed my own health during the pandemic to help my hospital and I just want to have the opportunity to continue to do that," explained Broadstreet.

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Broadstreet has a medical exemption note signed by a doctor, which she says is just for when she is breastfeeding her four-month-old daughter, who is being treated for a possible genetic disorder.

Kate Larsen: "Are you planning to get the vaccine once you're done breastfeeding?"

Megan Broadstreet: "Yes."

The CDC does strongly recommend the COVID vaccine for pregnant and breastfeeding people.

The state health order says people with exemptions, can continue working while testing for COVID twice weekly.

But, Salinas Valley Memorial says while they can't discuss personnel matters the "Healthcare System, our neighboring hospitals, and many other organizations in high-risk environments are protecting patients and each other by requiring all employees be vaccinated against COVID-19. This decision is deeply rooted in science, law and a fierce desire to uphold our responsibility to the community we serve."

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Broadstreet is a member of The National Union of Healthcare Workers, which put out the following statement, from their president, Sal Rosselli.

"The National Union of Healthcare Workers supports Gov. Newsom's vaccination mandate. We believe hospitals are safer when all healthcare workers are vaccinated. However, if a hospital determines that a caregiver has a valid medical reason not to get vaccinated, that caregiver should not have to effectively lose their job."

"I think it's reasonable for a hospital to go beyond the health order if a hospital thinks that's essential to protect the safety of their patients and the safety of other health professionals," said Janet Coffman, a professor with UCSF's Institute for Health Policy Studies.

Despite nursing shortage concerns in California, she's not overly worried about the impact of the vaccine mandate on Bay Area health care systems.

"I think the strain is much less than in those parts of the country where we're seeing larger percentages of health care workers resisting vaccine mandates," said Coffman.

Stanford, Kaiser, and Sutter say that employees who are not fully vaccinated or who don't have an approved accommodation will be placed on unpaid administrative leave starting Oct. 1. And if employees remain out of compliance, Sutter says they're subject to termination by Oct. 15, Kaiser says they risk termination by Dec. 1.

UCSF says there will not be terminations starting Oct. 1. They say "employees who are non-compliant won't be able to work on-site, and they can take unpaid leave or use accrued time like a vacation or paid time off. Employees who are part way through their vaccination process will have time to reach full compliance."

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