More than 100 people marched around Penn Medicine Lancaster General Hospital on Sunday afternoon to protest the health system’s policy requiring staff be vaccinated.
Protesters held signs that read “My body my choice,” “Stop medical tyranny” and “Coercion is not consent.”
FreePA organizers declined to comment.
The grassroots organization sprung up in opposition to the Wolf administration’s stringent COVID-19 mitigation measures that, among other things, forced the closure of indoor dining establishments. FreePA has chapters in roughly a dozen counties, including Lancaster, according to the organization’s website.
Until Sunday, the group had worked quietly behind the scenes collecting money for legal representation and gathering signatures to demand the health system rescind its vaccination policy.
Organizers have declined to say how much support their petition has garnered but promised Sunday the hospital would “know soon enough.”
Eric Winter, a Berks County attorney who represented the owners of bars and restaurants that remained open in defiance of public health orders, told LNP | LancasterOnline that organizers intended to present the petition to hospital management this week.
Winter is advising Pennsylvania Informed Consent Advocates, a Facebook group devoted to LG Health employees, on matters related to the mandatory vaccination.
The group started at Musser Park in Lancaster with a prayer and a 30-minute speech outlining their concerns. Then they walked to the hospital, marched around the facility and prayed.
Circling the hospital Sunday, protesters chanted “No jab, no job, no way!”
Individuals dressed in blue scrubs and face masks stood on the bridge over Duke Street and watched the crowd pass underneath.
“We’re fighting for you!” a woman yelled to onlookers.
Desire to ‘have a choice’
While the majority of employees who are not yet vaccinated against COVID-19 are between 20 and 40 years of age, according to hospital officials, Sunday’s event drew the old and very young, with the youngest pushed in strollers.
“I’m not concerned at all about a hospital worker that’s not been vaccinated,” said Julie Rudisill, of Manheim Township. “I do care that they have the choice to be vaccinated.”
Rudisill, who recently had back surgery, limped along slowly in the back of the pack.
LGH employees, who can file for a medical or religious exemption, have until Sept. 1 to be fully vaccinated.
“We continue to offer information to employees with questions about vaccine safety and efficacy, the policy, and the opportunity to apply for religious and medical exemptions,” John Lines, a hospital spokesman, said in a text to LNP | LancasterOnline.
About two-thirds of LGH staff are vaccinated.
At the heart of the group’s opposition to the policy is the speed with which the vaccines were developed and safety concerns.
They’re not alone.
Employees in New Mexico, California and Texas have filed lawsuits over COVID-19 vaccine requirements. One such case, from Houston Methodist Hospital employees, was recently dismissed by a federal judge.
It is unclear what effect the dismissal may have on other employee disputes over vaccinations, such as at LGH. The majority of hospital systems are not yet mandating a COVID-19 vaccine.
Awilda Santiago, who stood outside her Lancaster home watching protesters, said health care workers have done a critical job well.
But should health care workers be vaccinated?
“Seguro que sí,” Santiago said in Spanish, indicating she’s sure they should be.