Hundreds of healthcare workers protest against vaccine mandate at Strong Memorial Hospital

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — A group of health care workers in the region has been protesting vaccine mandates for weeks.

They have until Sept. 27 to get their first COVID-19 vaccine dose or they’ll be forced to resign. The emergency entrance to Strong Memorial Hospital along Elmwood Avenue was packed with hundreds of protestors Monday afternoon.

"You get the shot or you’re out of here, and you don’t get the vacation you earned, you don’t get any chance for unemployment,” Amanda Coakley, a physical therapist at Rochester General said.

Signs against the vaccine could be seen up and down the street. Some cars driving by honking their horns in solidarity. Many protestors were wearing patriotic clothing to symbolize "freedom of choice."

"Once the mandates occur, once the people are let go, those are consequences of this mandate proposal, there is no returning after that,” Robert Curr, a longtime employee of U of R said.

Curr has been part of U of R’s maintenance crew for 21 years. He could point out people in the crowd of protestors that he works with every day.

"When people’s livelihoods are threatened in such a manner and they’re forced to do something they really don’t believe in or lose your job, it’s been tough,” Curr said.

The director of the New York State Health Facilities Association (NYSHFA) sent a letter to the New York State Department of Health requesting that COVID-19 testing be an option.

"They don’t want to lose their jobs and they want to provide care, and given the workforce shortage it’s essential that they’re allowed to provide that care,” Stephen Hanse said.

In that letter, the New York State Health Facilities Association specifies that 201 nursing providers took part in a workforce survey. Of those providers, 94% said they are currently experiencing staff shortages and 59% of providers from nursing home facilities said, staffing shortages have negatively affected their ability to admit new residents from hospitals in the community.

"We’re already on a skeleton crew the departments are working short and after the 27th I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m very afraid,” Renee Weir told News10NBC, also a physical therapist Rochester General.

Part of the bigger picture for some folks is that they feel all the work they did during the peak of COVID’s wrath isn’t acknowledged.

"My coworkers need me, my patients need me, I’m going to do what I have to do, that means nothing now and it’s a huge slap in the face,” Coakley added.

NYSHFA says they’re still waiting on a response from the health department.

According to the state, 85% of this region’s hospital workers are vaccinated.