Local News

80 of 30,000 UNC Health workers quit over COVID-19 vaccine mandate

Posted September 21, 2021 4:40 a.m. EDT
Updated October 1, 2021 1:00 p.m. EDT

— Eighty UNC Health employees have resigned rather than get vaccinated against coronavirus, health system officials said Friday.

On Sept. 21, 60 employees had resigned.

A spokesperson tells WRAL News that UNC Health is still working to figure out the status of about 300 employees, an improvement from the 1,100 who were still unvaccinated in late September.

UNC Health has confirmed the vaccination status or granted exemptions for nearly 99% of its 30,000 employees.

Employees have until Nov. 2 to get fully vaccinated or be fired.

"We never anticipated that we would be standing outside UNC Medical Center the evening of [Sept.] 21 asking people to turn in their ID badges," said Dr. Matt Ewend, chief clinical officer for UNC Health. "There would always be a period where there would be consequences but where folks would have a chance to correct their actions and become compliant and stay with us.”

UNC Health employee vaccination rates

Some UNC Health workers told WRAL News that they're concerned about the safety of the available vaccines, their quick roll-out and potential long-term side-effects.

"I quit a job that I literally loved because I didn’t want to put something in my body," said Brittany Minahan, whose last nursing shift at Wayne UNC Healthcare, in Goldsboro, was Sept. 19.

Minahan received a religious exemption from vaccination, but she resigned after being told she would need to undergo coronavirus testing twice a week.

"Why are we not testing the people who are vaccinated?" she asked. "You are discriminating [against] me for not taking the vaccine.”

Laurie Scherbekow, a nurse at North Carolina Heart & Vascular, a UNC Health cardiology practice in Smithfield, also obtained a religious exemption from getting vaccinated and is staying on the job, despite her opposition to the mandate.

"It absolutely is about our freedom. We should have the freedom to choose,” Scherbekow said. "I cried and prayed. I even asked God, ‘If I am wrong. Show me that I am wrong.’”

Ewend argued that the vaccines are safe and effective, noting that almost every COVID-19 patient on a ventilator at UNC Medical Center, in Chapel Hill, wasn't vaccinated.

“There is real support among our workforce for this [mandate],” he said. "It makes for a safer working environment, and that’s what we are supposed to bring to our patients and each other.”

UNC Health's hospitals are already stretched thin in terms of staffing during the pandemic, Ewend said, but officials are planning for the possibility of more vacancies after the Nov. 2 deadline.

"It was never our intention to lose a single person," he said. "We have contingency plans to mobilize folks and get them into the clinical settings so we can continue to care for the sickest people in North Carolina.”

Duke Health vaccination rates

Friday, Oct. 1 is the deadline for Duke University's 20,000 employees to comply with the university’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate -- or get fired.

“Really, this is about safety. We don’t want to lose anyone over this, and we need to make sure we are able to safely care for our patients," said Katie Galbraith, president of Duke Regional Hospital, in Durham. "Right now, the vaccine is the best tool we have in our toolkit. There is a lot of really solid science behind it to demonstrate the effectiveness of these vaccines."

Duke Health officials said 98 percent of employees have either been vaccinated or received a medical or religious exemption, leaving about 350 of its 23,000 employees who haven't yet come into compliance with the mandate. But officials said many of them are new employees or people on leave, who will be given more time.

"Employees who have not complied ... will be subject to administrative actions, including possible unpaid administrative leave advancing to dismissal," spokeswoman Sarah Avery said.

Duke Health officials aren't disclosing how many staffers have resigned because of the mandate.

"We do not anticipate a large exodus from our organization, and our goal is to not have anyone leave," Galbraith said.

WakeMed's vaccine deadline for employees is Nov. 12, and system officials said an estimated 80 percent of their staff are fully vaccinated.

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