Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health workers have until July 9 to apply for a COVID-19 vaccine exemption ahead of the Sept. 1 deadline for all employees to be fully vaccinated, according to an attorney advising workers opposed to the new mandate.
Staff who are unable or unwilling to be vaccinated for medical or religious reasons may apply for an exemption.
Roughly two-thirds of LG Health’s more than 9,700 employees are vaccinated.
Eric Winter, a Berks County attorney advising LG Health employees, estimated a couple hundred workers could seek the exemption, likely for medical reasons. Religious exemptions, he said, are fairly uncommon.
“I’m not dealing with people who are conspiracy theorists here,” said Winter, noting the employees opposed to the mandate represent a broad spectrum of hospital staff.
Winter added, “They’re scared about losing their jobs.”
A petition that garnered more than 11,000 signatures submitted last month sought a policy reversal, but so far has received no response from management, Winter said.
A reversal would not be unprecedented. Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology recently did an about-face on its student vaccination mandate, citing a bill that would bar state and local governments as well as Pennsylvania colleges and universities from requiring proof of a COVID-19 vaccine. Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed the bill Thursday.
But it is unlikely.
LG Health officials have showed no signs of rolling back the mandate and instead have continued to defend it, saying the vaccine policy is designed to protect patients, staff and the community.
“Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health continues to focus our efforts on educating our employees on the safety and efficacy of the vaccine with our goal to ensure that all employees are fully vaccinated by September 1, 2021,” an LG Health spokesperson said in an email.
‘There’s not a bad guy here’
LG Health officials did not respond to questions about an exemption form Winter said staff are required to submit, the process nor who will be reviewing the submissions.
Winter said it he intended to attend with employees, upon request, exemption interviews with the review board. But he also said it was unclear how that process will play out.
Anticipating a legal challenge, employees are raising money for attorney fees. As of July 1, a GoFundMe campaign had raised more than $9,000 of its $50,000 goal.
To meet the Sept. 1 deadline — depending on the vaccine — staff has less than three weeks to start a two-dose regimen.
Given the comparison to the hospital’s flu vaccine requirement for staff, LNP | LancasterOnline also inquired about the number of employee requests and granted exemptions for the most recent flu season, which officials also declined to answer.
Health systems routinely require flu vaccinations for staff, but have been slow to do so for COVID-19 vaccine with only a handful nationally announcing — with employee pushback — similar policies.
“There’s not a bad guy here,” Winter said. “I believe LGH is well-meaning in this. We just think the whole thing is misguided.”
The University of Pennsylvania health system is the only one in the state to require staff vaccinations.
Officials at UPMC and WellSpan Health have not adopted a vaccine mandate, but said they continue to evaluate vaccine data and encourage staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19.