Clarissa Kenyon

Op-ed columnist Clarissa Kenyon

An open letter to Lancaster County Commissioners Josh Parsons and Ray D’Agostino:

At your May 26 commissioners meeting, you attacked Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health’s policy requiring all hospital employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine by Sept. 1.

On your Facebook page later that same week, Commissioner Parsons, you stated that you have had “outreach from a number of LGH employees about the decision to require all employees to get this vaccine.”

Well, I am a Lancaster General Health employee, and you are right: I am very concerned.

I am concerned that in your recent statements, the two of you have used your position of leadership to heighten the fears of your constituents, rather than highlight the science that can assuage them.

Leadership comes with a responsibility to the people you serve. As a Lancaster General Health employee, I feel strongly that the vaccine requirement exemplifies the responsibility that we have to the people we serve.

As one of the 9,000-plus employees of what is one of the county’s largest employers and health care providers, I am proud of the leadership that the vaccine policy displays.

Lancaster General Health is taking this step not only in the best interest of its employees and patients, but of the community at large. Despite the politicization that has surrounded nearly every aspect of the pandemic — from simple things like masks to the bigger issues of school closures or lockdowns — Lancaster General Health has shown tireless leadership and fact-based decision-making to support the needs of the community.

Since the beginning of this pandemic, we have committed our resources to the safety of our employees and community.

We closed auxiliary services to reduce the spread of the virus while redeploying all staff to other areas to avoid a loss of employment.

We helped launch and staff community testing sites. We spent tireless hours caring for those who contracted the disease, constantly seeking to improve the care and outcomes for the 3,000-plus patients requiring hospitalization.

We established a multidisciplinary effort to treat patients experiencing post-COVID-19 issues.

We have allocated valuable time and resources alongside our community partners in the Vaccinate Lancaster Coalition, distributing more than 220,000 vaccine doses at no cost to our community — an effort I personally give my weekends up to support.

Nationwide, the vaccine has been distributed to millions of people and monitored by the rigorous standards required for all medicine, and we have seen that the risks are incredibly small.

On the other hand, we have all witnessed the harm to both the health of communities and the economy that we risk by allowing the pandemic to carry on unchecked.

In health care, as in many industries, it is expected that you take the precautions necessary to ensure a safe and healthy work environment. Food service workers must ensure they are using proper hand-washing and, yes, must have the appropriate vaccines, to ensure they aren’t potentially spreading disease to those they serve.

In health care, we serve the most vulnerable populations and it is both logical and ethical to ensure every precaution is taken to keep ourselves and our patients healthy.

I agree that taking any medical treatment, vaccine or otherwise, is a matter of personal choice, as is working in health care.

But those who choose to work in health care are choosing to impact the lives of those they encounter — often the most vulnerable people — during difficult times.

This responsibility calls for us to hold ourselves to higher standards to protect our patients. We wear masks and gloves. We practice rigorous personal hygiene and clean our equipment to clinical standards. We do this so that when our patients come to us in need, they can know that they are safe in our care.

Operating in the modern world comes with a host of risks and benefits that are necessary to the daily functions of society. According to the National Safety Council, the chances of dying from a motor vehicle crash are 1 in 103, but many of us choose to commute by car anyway, because we have decided the risks are outweighed by the benefits of gainful employment.

The vaccines are not zero risk, but the science shows us that the risks are greatly outweighed by the benefits. On a personal level, you are much less likely to get sick or die from the coronavirus. And then you factor in the benefits we offer our patients and our community by getting vaccinated against COVID-19.

As health care workers, we have the responsibility to follow the science and to do what we always do — put ourselves between our patients and the things that harm their health.

Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health’s vaccination policy not only offers assurance to the community that they are safe in our care, but also communicates our confidence in the vaccine itself — confidence we hope to inspire in others.

I hope that you will also come to recognize your responsibility to promote this confidence yourself.

To do less than we can is not the kind of care — or leadership — our community deserves.

Clarissa Kenyon is an employee of Lancaster General Hospital working in administration and a member of Lancaster Speaks Up. The views expressed in this op-ed are solely the author's and do not necessarily represent the views of Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health or Lancaster General Hospital.

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