St. Charles Bend nurses facing dismissal over COVID-19 vaccine refusal speak out
(Update: Adding video, nurses' comments)
'Natural immunity' effectiveness vs. vaccine still being debated
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Two nurses and a certified nursing assistant at St. Charles Bend who requested religious exemptions for mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations spoke out Thursday, saying they'll be placed on unpaid leave, then fired for refusing to get the shot by the Oct. 18 deadline.
Saren Love has been a medical floor nurse for nearly five years. Kari Derenzio is a nurse on the Progressive Care Unit and has worked for St. Charles for 2 1/2 years. Natalie Strong has been a CNA for five years.
“I would go on an unpaid leave of absence starting on the 18th of October, to be reviewed every 30 days," Love said. "I will lose my benefits on Oct. 31. I no longer have a position. When the mandate expires, which is on January 2022, I will be terminated.”
All three women said they’ve already had Covid-19 and have since built a natural immunity, though the effectiveness of natural immunity vs. the vaccine is still a matter of scientific debate.
But the three St. Charles caregivers say weekly testing and wearing personal protective equipment should be enough.
“We got it and we recovered, and we’re still here, doing the same job,” Strong said.
Love believes there isn’t enough focus on underlying health conditions that put people at higher risk of contracting COVID such as obesity, congestive heart failure, diabetes and other medical health concerns.
“We’re saying the one-size-fits-all, assembly-line ideology of vaccination is not necessarily the best thing for our patients. These conversations do need to exist," Love said.
Derienzo is a third-generation nurse. Both her mom and grandmother have worked for St. Charles Health System for more than 20 years.
They chose to get vaccinated, but Derienzo stands firm that it conflicts with her religious beliefs and that the government is overstepping its powers.
“I don’t think your employer should hold your job over your head because of your vaccination status," Derenzio said.
St. Charles hasn't said how many nurses applied for an exemption, but does say about 91% of its workers overall are vaccinated.
Lisa Goodman, the public Information officer for St. Charles Health System, provided this statement to NewsChannel 21:
"The state of Oregon has mandated that health care workers must be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 by Oct. 18 to protect patients and the health care workforce as we continue battling our worst COVID-19 surge of positive cases yet. We are proud of the more than 91% of caregivers and providers who have already been fully vaccinated and have taken this important step to protect their health, their families, our patients and our community. We believe vaccination is the best way out of this pandemic."