MERIDIAN, Idaho — Protestors spanned from sidewalk to sidewalk outside St. Luke's location in Meridian off Eagle Road. One protest organizer estimated as many as 1,387 participants took part in the protest.
Some worked in healthcare, some had family in the industry, and others just wanted to support. All those who gathered oppose St. Luke's announcement that COVID-19 vaccinations will be required for their staff by Sept. 1, 2021, as a term of employment.
"They are truly trying to provide high-level care and I respect that, and I’m a proud physician of this corporation," St. Luke's Physician Derrik Dauplaise said. "We work with people who have different opinions than us and we’re going to protect them."
Dauplaise is an example of why protestors say this isn't an anti-vaccine protest. What they are asking for is the option to make a choice.
"If you want to keep your job, then you have to bend on your beliefs and get the shot. And I’m not okay with that," registered nurse Ken Bacus said. "The three major healthcare organizations in the Valley get together with each other and make the same decision as well. That's not capitalism. That’s crony capitalism. Because there is no place to go. If you lose your job at one, you can’t go to another."
Idaho is seeing a rise in COVID-19 cases over the past several days. The most recent data shows the Gem State has 123 people hospitalized for COVID-19. A week ago, 82 people were hospitalized.
KTVB reached out to St. Luke's and Saint Alphonsus to ask if they're seeing the impacts of this trend.
“While there does not appear to be a significant increase in COVID-19 patients in our Emergency Department, there is a slight increase of in-patient admissions with COVID." Saint Alphonsus said in a statement. "This is consistent with increasing COVID prevalence in our communities due in part to the Delta mutant strain and unvaccinated patients. We continue to recommend people get vaccinated to protect themselves and their families.”
Dr. David Pate, the retired CEO of St. Luke's Health Systems, said the ever-present Delta variant could become the primary strain of the virus. If this becomes reality, healthcare workers will be needed more than ever before.
"I would like to know how the healthcare system plans if there are resignations that happen from this," Duaplaise said. "How are they going to handle that? And how is that safe for the patients? How is that safe for the population? What would a five percent reduction in the workforce do for any of the healthcare systems?"
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