Exemptions approved, employees still fired over vaccines

Pueblo Community Health Center says they made select accommodations for employees who did not want to get vaccinated, based on their positions in the company
Pueblo Community Health Center says 25 employees total were impacted by the vaccine mandate.
Posted at 6:41 PM, Oct 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-18 20:43:49-04

PUEBLO — Former employees with Pueblo Community Health Center are calling the way they were fired "disheartening".

On August 30, the state of Colorado announced all healthcare workers are required to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

“It instantly divided us, all of us at work. It was the vaccinated and the unvaccinated,” said Vanese Rogers, who worked in the Billing department at PCHC for over five years.

Rogers, her sister Latasha, and Kelly Potestio say they are just some of the employees at PCHC who were told on a Friday that their religious or medical exemptions had been approved, but they could not be accommodated for and asked not to return to work on the following Monday.

"It felt like they just left most of us high and dry. Even though we had turned in all our information and letters they needed and made decisions really early, they didn’t let us know until it was too late," said Rogers.

The deadline for employees at PCHC to be fully vaccinated is October 31.

The deadline to begin getting vaccinated was October 1, which is the same day the three women say they had their exemptions approved but lost their jobs.

"I would have had more respect from them denying my exemption and being straightforward," said Latasha Rogers.

However, in a statement from PCHC's CEO Donald Moore, he said "PCHC communicated extensively and clearly with our unvaccinated staff about timelines."

Moore also says four staff member were provided accommodations and had their exemptions approved.

Some employees applied for exemptions and all of them were reviewed in good faith. It is true that not all exemptions resulted in an accommodation. For example, an employee who has frequent patient contact (e.g., receptionist, nurse) may have been granted an exemption however an accommodation was not granted due to the health risk posed to patients and co-workers.

Donald Moore, CEO of Pueblo Community Health Center

Vanese Rogers says when working in the Billing department, she worked from home for the majority of the pandemic and temporarily after returning to in-person work when on maternity leave.

She says she asked to work from home again when her exemption was approved, but was denied the opportunity.

“It was rare that we ever got any in person payments so, most of it was done over the phone. We were working remote most of the time.”

Moore says "This is not unique to PCHC. The entire health care sector is undergoing staffing challenges."

However, he believes requiring vaccines will actually benefit the staff members that remain.

One of the negative impacts of uncontrolled COVID transmission is increased absenteeism due to illness, isolation, and quarantine as a result of COVID infection. I am looking forward to better attendance with virtually all our staff vaccinated now.

Donald Moore, CEO of Pueblo Community Health Center