STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — John Matland has been a voice for health care workers like himself who choose to not get vaccinated. Earlier this month, he spoke out against Northwell Health’s policy to test all unvaccinated workers starting August 16. Matland believed that all workers should be tested knowing that vaccinated individuals can also spread the delta variant.
“We decided to make a stand for our rights, for our own medical decisions,” Matland said.
On Wednesday morning, he joined other health care workers in a rally outside Staten Island University Hospital Princes Bay. But later in the day, workers from Northwell Health reviewed an email with a new policy based on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s recent vaccine mandate.
“Apart from a limited number of team members with approved medical or religious exemptions, those who fail to receive their first dose by the Sept. 27 deadline will be subject to adverse action, up to and including termination,” the email said.
Stephanie Defonte has been a nurse here for 15 years.
“I’m young, I'm healthy, and I have no comorbidities. I had COVID already. So I don’t understand why I have to be forced to get a vaccine,” Defonte said.
“Every employee that came in every single day last year and walked in with fear in their face, God bless every single one of them, and to see how everyone has turned now," she added. "These people have worked with no PPE, no supplies, they showed up every single day, and now we’re being fired for not wanting to take a vaccine.”
“As healthcare professionals and members of the largest healthcare provider in New York State, we have a unique responsibility to protect the health of our patients and each other. The emergence of the highly contagious Delta variant underscores that we must take every step available to us to stop the spread of COVID-19 and protect our staff, patients, and the most vulnerable in our communities,” a Northwell Health spokesperson said in a statement.
Until then, Matland and other health care workers said they will continue to fight, but they are unsure of what their future holds.
“My stance is, on the 27th, my new life begins, and what that’s gonna be, I don’t know,” Matland said.
“This hospital, I thought I’d be at for the rest of my life. I've been here since I was 20. I thought I’d retire. But it’s sad that this is what they’re going to do to me,” Defonte said.