LYNCHBURG, Va. – Some people in Lynchburg are taking a stand after Centra Health announced earlier this week it will mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for its caregivers.
By Nov. 1, more than 7,500 caregivers at Centra must be fully vaccinated. Centra said those who don’t get a shot will be given a two-week suspension before ultimately being fired.
“A lot of them are scared for their jobs and don’t really feel like they have a voice,” said Judilynn Tomlin, who started the petition.
Tomlin, of Lynchburg, has many family members and friends that work at Centra Health in Lynchburg and said she’s speaking on their behalf.
“There is a wall that we should have around us and our medical decisions,” she said. “The wall should be impenetrable. Your employer is only allowed in if you let them.”
When she caught wind of Centra’s vaccine mandate, she knew she had to do something. She started a petition and is collecting signatures in an effort to give a voice to caregivers like her loved ones.
“They are caregivers, they’re doctors, they’re nurses, they’re educated,” Tomlin said. “I think we can trust them to make the decision that’s right for them.”
Centra said it’s aware of the petition. But with nearly 40% of staff members still not vaccinated, the clinic said it was something it was prepared for.
“We are here to lead. We’re here to take bold steps and we want to do that in the name of protecting patients,” Centra Health’s Dr. Michael Elliot said.
Centra said it’s ready to do what it takes to keep the staff they need. That includes the potential for incentives such as bonuses; however, those like Tomlin say no incentive is worth backing down from your beliefs.
“We have examples of medical systems right here in this area that aren’t going as far as, you either get this injection or you lose your job,” she said.
In contrast, rather than mandate the vaccine, hospitals like Carilion, LewisGale and SoVA continue to enforce masks and testing. Carilion is also offering cash rewards to encourage staff to get vaccinated.
Centra said it has considered offering a cash incentive but believes that the mandate was the best way to keep everyone safe.
“I think we need to come to grips with reality that it’s still a fight we have to fight,” Centra Health’s Dr. Chris Lewis said.
Currently, the petition has a climbing number of 1,933 signatures with a goal of 2,500. Tomlin’s hope is that it will be enough for Centra to rethink their decision.