MHCC Covid 19 protest

The largest crowd of the three days gathers at Jackalope Square on Thursday afternoon with placards and lots of smiles as horns blare in support of their message against government mandates on healthcare decisions such as the Covid-19 vaccine. Several businesses in Douglas provided cookies, water and other items for the protesters, many of whom expressed deep appreciation for the tremendous support they received.

Day two of the rally and protest march against the Covid-19 vaccination mandate for healthcare employees began much as day one did, with speeches and chants, but the tone shifted somewhat when Memorial Hospital of Converse County CEO Matt Dammeyer appeared and answered questions from the protesters.

While some in the crowd remained staunchly defiant, others were in tears, expressed their frustration, anger or disbelief, but many others listened and asked serious questions about the mandates and the hospital’s response and policy, as well as questioned, though often critical, of the administration’s decision to stop the use of certain controversial drugs for the treatment of Covid-19, most notably ivermectin.

In contrast, day three of the protests on Thursday became much more loud and attracted perhaps a couple dozen more people, topping 85 at the march and at the rally’s end at Jackalope Square and along Center Street, where they handed out flyers and carried more signs than had been present in the previous two days.

While the rally was scheduled for three days – Nov. 16, 17 and 18 – a dozen or so continued the protest on Friday afternoon along Center Street and at Jackalope Square, where Mayor Rene Kemper met with them to express her support for their frustration over government mandates and desire for personal choice over vaccinations.

Resignations and exemptions

Last Wednesday was also the deadline for unvaccinated MHCC employees to seek an exemption if they wanted to get a response by Monday. Once they request the exemption, a committee will review them to see if they meet the requirements, with most or all of the decisions coming early this week.

That will give employees who are denied an exemption two weeks to decide if they will get vaccinated, quit or be terminated before Dec. 5.

Dammeyer said as of last week the hospital had a “single digit” number of resignations related to the vaccination requirement but he didn’t have a specific number on hand.

As of Friday, MHCC administration had received 94 exemption requests among the 468 employees, but a number of them had contracted Covid recently and the CDC recommends not getting vaccinated for 90 days after recovery. Dammeyer said those people will get an automatic medical exemption for the 90 days, and he estimated that involves less than 20 people.

He estimated about 50 requests fall under the religious side and the rest are medical.

Student protest

The impromptu Friday gathering was also intended to coincide with a short-lived planned protest march by some Douglas High School students over a science class assignment to do a research paper on vaccines in general (not the Covid-19 vaccine specifically), provide positive and negative outcomes of vaccines, and look at how they are developed.

“Then, they had to create a podcast. In the podcast the students were to discuss both the benefits of vaccines and the challenges associated with developing safe, effective vaccines and distributing them to the community,” CCSD#1 Superintendent Paige Fenton Hughes said.

Initially, social media posts attacked the assignment as pro-Covid vaccine and students said they intended to protest it, but Friday afternoon several parents said that didn’t materialize when they learned what the assignment actually was about.

The rally and protests in Douglas served as a reminder of how divisive the issue of the federal vaccine mandates are in this country. The healthcare mandate remains in effect, with the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) ordering that all workers without an allowable religious or medical exemption have their first shot by Dec. 5 and second by Jan. 4.

That rule has prompted nearly all public and most private hospitals in the country to set policies for employees and any contractors doing business on their properties to be vaccinated by those dates or be terminated from employment or not allowed on the property.

MHCC followed suit with its policy stating at least 90% of its employees must be vaccinated by Dec. 5, with the remainder able to request medical or religious exemptions that are narrowly defined by CMS and, by tangent, MHCC and its policy.

Numerous employees strenuously objected to that MHCC policy and have threatened to quit or be fired by refusing to be vaccinated or have, so far, refused to state whether they are vaccinated or intend to be vaccinated before that date. Dammeyer previously has said they do not know how many employees will be leaving the hospital because of the mandate but some certainly will and a loss of any employee is going to be felt by the remaining staff and the community.

Several at the rally told the Budget they will force the hospital to fire them because they will not get vaccinated. Some also said they know of others who have already quit because of it.

As he spoke to the rally on day two, Dammeyer repeatedly expressed his and the hospital board’s difficult position on this mandate from CMS, talked about the bad outcomes of no longer taking Medicare and Medicaid payments as some have suggested, and answered questions about the decision to stop using ivermectin to treat Covid infections.

Ivermectin

Marlin Anderson, who was hospitalized at MHCC with Covid with his wife, and both were treated with ivermectin by their request when it was allowed, questioned why the hospital would stop using it.

Dammeyer, who has a PhD in clinical psychology with a background in how clinical research is conducted and reported, explained the decision to not use the drug stems from the research showing it is not particularly effective in the treatment even though there may be anecdotal evidence of some cases.

The federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not authorized or approved ivermectin for use in preventing or treating Covid-19 in humans. Ivermectin is approved for human use to treat infections caused by some parasitic worms and head lice, and skin conditions like rosacea.

“Currently available data do not show ivermectin is effective against Covid-19. Clinical trials assessing ivermectin tablets for the prevention or treatment of COVID-19 in people are ongoing.

“Taking large doses of ivermectin is dangerous,” the FDA wrote on its website.

Elsewhere

Dammeyer acknowledged the situation nationally is fluid and could change before Dec. 5, but said the best course of action for MHCC is to comply with CMS regulations even if others, such as Lander Valley Regional Medical Center or West Park Hospital, chose to take other action.

Lander, a private hospital, is working to slow implementation of the policy and could ignore it, risking Medicare payments. Cody’s WPH is a public facility operated by an outside nonprofit; its board tabled action on the policy until this week after public and staff outcry.

“We’re not going to actively go against the regulation,” Dammeyer said.

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