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'I'm more than mad': Arkansans, Mercy employees protest vaccine requirement

Mercy employees and the community in the River Valley and Northwest Arkansas are protesting the employee vaccine requirements.

FORT SMITH, Ark — Mercy employees and the community in the River Valley and Northwest Arkansas are protesting the employee vaccine requirements. They say they are left with a tough choice to get the vaccine or leave their job.

On July 7, 2021, the Missouri-based Mercy Health system announced that all workers must receive the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of September. 

“I am mad. I’m more than mad,” said Rogers protest attendee Vicki Otwell, speaking about the required vaccination for employees.

Between July 31 to August 1, there have been protests outside of three Mercy locations. On July 31, a protest took place outside of the Mercy Hospital in Springfield, Missouri. On August 1, a protest took place outside of Mercy Fort Smith from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. and another at Mercy NWA from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Alison Hendricks attended the Rogers protest. She calls the requirement a medical Jim Crow, saying, “being forced out of their jobs and employment because of it, it’s oppression.”

Drivers honked in support while protesters lined the streets chanting with signs in hand. One sign read, “last year’s heroes, this year’s unemployed.”

“They’re being forced out of a career they’ve been good at enough for the last 18 months," said a Fort Smith protest attendee. Continuing, “but now they’re not good enough?”

5NEWS reached out to Mercy for their response to the protests. They sent a statement that reads in part, “While Mercy respects differences of opinion about the COVID-19 vaccine, Mercy’s stance remains unchanged. We will require all co-workers to be vaccinated by Sept. 30 to protect our co-workers, patients, and communities.” 

“It’s disappointing to me because I feel that everyone should be able to have a choice,” Bartlett said.

Mercy is not the only hospital requiring the vaccine. Mana and Washington Regional are also leaving staff who don't want to be vaccinated with a tough choice.

“I feel overwhelmed,” said nurse and Rogers protest attendee Adriana Vaughan. “I’m just praying that I don’t have to make a choice at the last minute between my health and my freedom or my job.”

“I’m probably getting out of nursing for a while until this blow over,” said Otwell.

Protesters say it's about choice and that they will wear personal protective equipment. However, they’re calling the vaccine requirement unconstitutional.

Protesters also said the Mercy vaccine requirement would ultimately leave them short-staffed.