By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Registered nurse Rebecca Verscheure says she just wants to work.
But the health care veteran can’t – at least not at the Chatham-Kent Health Alliance where she’s been on staff for the past 21 years.
Verscheure is among the 26 health-care workers who were terminated by the CKHA Oct. 31 for refusing to take the COVID-19 vaccine.
“We want nurses not to be forced into getting an experimental vaccine,” Verscheure told The Voice as she gathered with colleagues and supporters on the sidewalk across from the hospital. “We want to see nurses have the freedom to choose.
“We don’t want to be fired.”
Three days after the Halloween deadline, Verscheure and others took part in the first protest held outside the Chatham hospital since the onset of the pandemic.
About 100 people lined Grand Avenue, brandishing signs spelling out their collective displeasure over vaccine mandates and against the COVID-19 vaccine in general.
Some of the women taking part said it’s the first time they’ve ever protested anything in their lives.
Karen Metcalfe, a nurse with 27 years’ experience, said nobody “chose” to leave their job, adding she was able to work safely throughout the pandemic by getting tested for the virus twice a week.
Erica Rumble, another nurse who was terminated for not getting the jab, said there is a groundswell of local support for health-care workers who don’t want the shot.
“We find each other through social media groups and support each other that way,” Rumble explained.
The Chatham group, which is networking with other groups across Ontario online, states the health-care workers stand for “autonomy, informed consent and personal choice.”
Ironically, the Nov. 3, Chatham protest coincided with a Ministry of Health announcement that the province will not be mandating the COVID-19 vaccine for Ontario’s health-care workers.
Instead, the decision to institute vaccine mandates is being left to individual health-care facilities.
But that doesn’t change the outcome for CKHA workers who have been fired.
Alliance President and Chief Executive Officer Lori Marshall said the CKHA “fully” stands behind its decision to implement a mandatory vaccination policy and there will be no change – regardless of the province’s decision.
“With this policy now in place at CKHA, our potential for outbreaks and service interruptions are reduced and the community can have confidence that we’ve created an even safer hospital environment for all,” Marshall said in a statement.
She went on to explain that while the hospital did not want to lose any valued members of the CKHA team, the mandate furthers the commitment the hospital is a “safe place to deliver and receive care.”
As far as making their concerns known, Marshall said the hospital supports the right of individuals to protest as long as it’s done in a “peaceful and safe manner.”
Regarding the vaccine policy, Marshall said the hospital aligns with the Ontario Hospital Association, which expressed disappointment with the provincial decision to not mandate vaccines for health-care workers.
A message from OHA president Anthony Dale states that health-care workers have the “moral imperative to take every precaution possible to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
In Ontario, 120 hospitals out of 141 endorsed policies to ensure their workers are fully vaccinated.
Mandatory vaccine policies are also strongly supported by Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario and the Ontario Medical Association.