Protesters gather at UnityPoint-St. Luke’s to voice concern over vaccine mandate

Published: Aug. 29, 2021 at 12:39 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Hundreds of employees in the UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s healthcare system, and patients, lined up on the corners of First Avenue and 10th Street to protest a vaccine mandate the health system put in place for its workers.

“It was emotional to know that we were expendable,” Diane Pansegrau, a former employee, said.

Pansegrau said she voluntarily quit in May 2021 out of fear of a vaccine mandate. The company said it would require all 33,000 employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine by November 1. While she had her reservations about the vaccine, she said taking away people’s choices were a bigger issue.

“We just want our choices,” Pansegrau said. “We want our freedom. Last year, I was a nurse on the frontlines, and this year they might lose their jobs.”

“I feel coerced,” Jessica James, another former employee and organizer of the protest, said. “You made them throw away their livelihoods over a vaccine.”

Neither of the two worked with COVID-19 patients in the healthcare system. James said she left in November 2020 after eight years. Her husband still worked part-time doing telehealth for the company. Even though he was working from home, he was still required to get a vaccine.

“He’s chosen not to get a vaccine for now, and I know a lot of people have chosen not to get vaccinated,” James said.

UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s gave KCRG-TV9 this statement: ”We are aware of the demonstrations taking place today near St. Luke’s Hospital. UnityPoint Health recently joined over 100 other health systems across the country in announcing a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for all team members. The decision to require the COVID-19 vaccine for our team members was made carefully and deliberately. As a health care organization, our patients rely on us to keep them safe. It is our responsibility to protect those we care for and work with, as well as lead by example in the communities we serve.

Demonstrations must occur on public property and not on hospital grounds. As the community’s health care provider, we are working to ensure our ability to continue to safely serve the members of the community. The safety of our patients, team members, and members of our community remain our highest priority.”

James believes that it could have all been handled differently.

“We need some alternatives,” James said. “If we could provide an antibody test or negative test and you won’t have to get vaccinated. “If you choose to wear a mask that would be fine. A lot of people feel bullied.”

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