VALE – (Release from Representative Mark Owens) Senator Lynn Findley (R-Vale) and Representative Mark Owens (R-Crane) called on Governor Brown today to halt and reverse the recent COVID-19 mandate requiring all health care and education sector workers, as well as some public services and state level employees, to get the COVID-19 vaccine in order to keep their jobs, and to implement robust medical and religious exemptions immediately.
“The newest mandates requiring vaccination for employment go too far—nobody should be forced to make a medical decision under threat of losing one’s job,” said Representative Owens. “Tens of thousands of hard-working Oregonians will be unfairly forced to choose between a medical procedure and the ability to provide for their families.”
“The impacts these vaccination mandates will have on rural schools, health care providers and hospitals, prisons, public safety, and social and public services will be severe,” added Sen. Findley. “These mandates will result in more harm than good and will have an opposite effect than desired.”
During the 2021 general session, Rep. Owens introduced and Sen. Findley co-sponsored HB 3407 to protect Oregonians’ right to privacy and ban vaccine passports to access credit, insurance, education, facilities, medical services, housing or accommodations, travel, entry into this state, employment or purchase goods or services. The bill never left committee or received a hearing.
“The mandate will not result in significantly more vaccinated health care workers, but rather will drive them out of our organizations to other states or out of health care all together. That one decision to mandate vaccines has done more to put our rural health system at risk than any other threat I have faced in my 30 years of working in hospitals,” said Dan Grigg, CEO, Harney County Health District.
“I’ve dedicated over 36 years to being on the frontlines to keep Oregonians healthy because I truly care. To know I’m being forced to quit a career I love or give up my rights to make my own medical decisions is wrong, and it will put our already overwhelmed health care systems further underwater,” said Ramona Tweed, a pharmacy technician from Jefferson County. “It’s a really scary and heartbreaking time for our state.”
Earlier today, Sen. Findley and Rep. Owens sent a letter to Governor Brown calling for a reversal of the mandate and immediate implementation of robust medical and religious exemptions. In addition, Rep Owens contacted Oregon Legislative Counsel last week with multiple questions on how these exemptions would work if they are in fact implemented. At time of release, the questions remain unanswered.
“As emergency status is prolonged and mandates roll out, critically absent is the process for individuals to self-attest for medical and religious exemption from the COVID-19 vaccine. If this cannot be allowed in Oregon healthcare workers, Eastern Oregon will lose the only longstanding provider for some 2500 Oregon Health Plan dental patients in Harney County,” said Dr. Matthew Bauer of Burns Dental Group. “Due to our unique location, we are also the Dental Home for multiple patients in Harney and Grant Counties and parts of Northern Nevada – that would go away as well. Furthermore, this healthcare entity creates jobs that provide a living wage for 16 families who participate with their dollars in our fragile local economy – with less employees the 43 year-old Burns Dental Group would be kaput.”
Public and union employees have voiced their concerns as well.
Casey Johnson, President, IAFF Local 922 Baker City Professional Firefighters, provided testimony to the Baker City Council on August 24 stating that under this mandate, they stand to lose 25% up to 50% of career professionals in the fire service and 90% of their volunteers, including vaccinated firefighters and EMS professionals.
In a letter received from Jess Tolman, Fire and EMS Chief for the Vale Fire and Ambulance, he outlines that 16 out of 22 members of Vale Fire and Ambulance will resign from their jobs if the mandate is enforced, effectively closing their department – an ambulance service responsible for 2,500 square miles with some communities more than two hours apart.
“If this mandate continues to be enforced, we will have no choice but to close the department down. This will greatly impact the community that relies on us to care for time sensitive emergencies. We ask that Governor Brown lift these mandates so we can continue to provide lifesaving care here in Malheur County,” stated Chief Tolman.
Jordan Valley School Superintendent Rusty Bengoa shared, “Out of the 25 total school staff at the Jordan Valley School District, including teachers, para-pros, office personnel, administrators, bus drivers, and coaches, 21 have stated they will not get the Covid-19 vaccine. That is 84% of the staff in Jordan Valley. If this happens there is no way that the school district can sustain that loss to personnel. It is already extremely difficult just to replace one teacher when a position opens. The Jordan Valley School District will have no other option but to close if this requirement stands. That will leave 65 students who live 46 miles from the closest town, which is actually in Idaho, and 70 miles from its closest Oregon neighboring town, with no access to a school.”“This is not a debate about the reality and dangers of COVID-19 or the Delta variant, or the efficacy of the vaccine,” said Rep Owens. “This is about a gross overreach of authority that is legally, ethically, and morally wrong. The decision to get the COVID-19 vaccine is a personal and private conversation and choice between the individual and their healthcare provider.”