GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) – On Monday morning, more than a hundred people — including some who said they were Prisma Health employees —gathered outside of Greenville Memorial to rally for “medical freedom” with signs and chants saying they’re against vaccine mandates for employees.
Protesters began lining the entrance of the hospital at around 7 a.m. for a rally they said was all in the name of ‘freedom’.
“I just see people who need support for freedom so we changed our whole day to come out and support people in the name of freedom,” Sherry O., a protester, said.
One woman told 7 News she was fired after working as a nurse at the hospital for over 30 years and refusing to wear an n95 mask. She said she was unvaccinated by choice and felt singled out by the hospital.
According to an official statement released by Dr. Wendell James, Chief Clinical Officer at Prisma Health, unvaccinated employees are now required to wear n95 masks instead of the blue surgical masks.
We take seriously our responsibility for protecting our patients and members of our staff. We have reinstituted our universal masking policy for all Prisma Health employees and facilities, regardless of vaccination status. Because unvaccinated individuals are at higher risk for contracting COVID-19, we have required N95 masks for employees who have chosen to remain unvaccinated for their protection and to prevent transmission inside our facilities.Dr. Wendell James, Chief Clinical Officer at Prisma Health
As of Monday, Prisma Health had a total of 400 patients, including children, across their entire hospital system being treated for COVID-19. Health leaders said 87 percent of those hospitalized patients were unvaccinated.
Employees at the hospital are not currently required to get vaccinated, but some people fear a mandate is on the horizon— especially with the recent FDA approval for the Pfizer vaccine. This fear inspired protesters to rally against any future vaccine mandates.
“I have friends who work for Prisma and friends who work for other parts of healthcare and they’re being told that they’re going to have to take the shot, whether or not they have other issues or reasons to not and we just wanted to support their right to choose,” Devin Ascheman, a protester, said.
Prisma Health said in a statement they respect and accept legitimate religious and medical reasons for those choosing not getting vaccinated, but they still believe vaccinations are a very effective way to protect staff and visitors from COVID-19.
Health officials said in the coming days they expect COVID-19 numbers to increase to, if not surpass, the numbers from the height of the pandemic in January 2021.
Clare Long, an acute care nurse at Prisma Health said she’s been a registered nurse for over 15 years and said she’s seeing first-hand that cases are getting worse. When we spoke with Long, she was leaving the hospital after working a 16 hour shift and approached us saying she was frustrated with the protesters outside of her workplace.
“I saw signs out here that were ridiculous they just enraged me. It had nothing to do with being a nurse or taking care of patients,” Long said, “There’s nobody representing us[nurses] and how we really feel. We want vaccinations. People need to pull up their sleeves or get a new job.”
Long said it’s saddening that some of her colleagues don’t trust the advice of their own physicians.
“I feel sorry for people who feel that way. That don’t trust medical science, their own physicians or the people they work with,” Long said, “You should do the right thing for your patients, that’s what you got in the field for.”
Prisma Health is encouraging vaccines and masks — leaders said their number one priority is protecting the safety of their patients and team.