by Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports
Roughly 300 people gathered outside the Idaho capital on Thursday, protesting the mandatory vaccinations that some health care providers have implemented for employees.
Saint Alphonsus Health System, St. Luke’s Health System, and Primary Health Group have announced that they will mandate employees receive the COVID-19 vaccination by Sept. 1 as a circumstance of their employment.
Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, a Republican who is running for governor, held a press conference Thursday in support of health care workers who do not want to be vaccinated.
Last week, McGeachin asked House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, to reconvene the recessed legislature to address the issue. Bedke has not called for lawmakers to return as of Thursday afternoon. Last week, Bedke told Idaho Reports he would consider the issue, but he generally supports employers’ rights to dictate terms of employment.
Idaho is a “work at will” state, according to the Idaho Department of Labor. “At will” means there is no set length of time for an employment relationship, and either the employer or the employee may end the relationship at any time with or without notice and with or without cause. As long the employer is not terminating an employee due to retaliation or discrimination, the employer does not need a reason to fire a person.
The Idaho hospitals and health care networks in question are all private businesses, so their employees are at-will employees.
In Idaho, the Human Rights Act only protects against discrimination on basis of, race, color, religion, disability sex or national origin.
McGeachin invited multiple health care workers who have opted not to be vaccinated to the press conference. Some of them booed reporters asking questions about patient rights and one who questioned McGeachin’s medical knowledge.
Health care workers who spoke questioned the science of the vaccine and expressed concern about what is unknown about the vaccine.
“The issue here today is not the effectiveness of the vaccine,” McGeachin said. “The issue at-hand is a matter of individual liberty and freedom.Those who have made the personal medical choice not to take this vaccine deserve to have their decisions respected”
McGeachin called the decision by health care systems a “threat.” She said solutions do exist to prevent discrimination.
“We must take action before thousands of healthcare workers are fired,” she said.
Idaho Reports asked McGeachin if she would be open to changing Idaho’s work-at-will policy. McGeachin owns a business in Idaho Falls.
“I do not support changing that,” she said. “I believe that we absolutely have the ability to make determinations about how to run our companies and what kind of standards we place on our employees and companies. However, as an employer, when it comes to me dictating my personal view on my employees, no matter what medical decision it is, that’s where I draw the line.”
McGeachin said the argument that health care workers being unvaccinated could impact the health of patients was “legitimate.”
“We should be having the debate, we should be having the conversation on how to deal with these issues,” she said.
People under the age of 12 are not yet eligible for the COVID-19, so those hospitalized children could be exposed to unvaccinated health care workers.
McGeachin did express concern about a shortage of healthcare workers if many are fired due to refusal to be vaccinated.
At the rally after the press conference, hundreds gathered on the capital steps to oppose the health systems’ decision. They held signs reading “my body, my choice,” “jobs, not jabs” or “#StopTheMandate.” Some signs compared mandated injections to rape; Others made accusations of tyranny.
Some Republican lawmakers have said they want to reconvene to address employer mandated vaccinations, while others have said the issue can wait until the regular session in January.
After the rally, the Democratic caucus issued a statement opposing the Legislature reconvening.
“COVID cases among health care system staff are rising in recent weeks, just as patient beds are scarce due to a range of illnesses and rapid population growth. Health care systems across the nation are opting to require a vaccine rather than risk rationing health care to patients,” Assistant House Democratic Leader Lauren Necochea said. “When Idahoans take a loved one to a chemotherapy appointment or a medically vulnerable child in for a check-up, they shouldn’t have to run the risk of contracting a dangerous virus in the very place where they seek medical care. Vaccination is the best and only way we are going to truly end this pandemic. It is not only safe but incredibly necessary.”