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Protesters gather outside Confluence Health in Wenatchee after vaccine mandate deadline

WENATCHEE — More than 100 Confluence Health and state employees and other Wenatchee Valley residents met on the intersection Ninth Street and Chelan Avenue around 1 p.m. to protest the state’s vaccine mandate for health care and state employees.

Among the protesters was Shawna Caddy, a Tonasket resident and administrative assistant with Confluence Health for 10 years who took a leave of absence rather than get vaccinated.

Caddy said she applied for a religious exemption and was accepted, but Confluence Health only gave her a 12-week leave of absence as an accommodation.

“We need to have our rights,” Caddy said. “You can’t take this away from us. We’re not hurting anybody by not being vaccinated. We’re hurting ourselves if people want to think that. That’s our choice.”

Caddy is on a leave of absence.

Gov. Jay Inslee announced in August that all state and private health care employees needed to be fully vaccinated by Monday but that religious and medical exemptions would be allowed. More than 90% of state employees are fully vaccinated as of Oct. 18, according to the state Office of Financial Management.

Confluence Health, the largest health care provider in North Central Washington, approved around 229 exemptions but offered only two options for accommodations: a 12-week leave of absence or work from home.

Within those 12 weeks, the employee can get vaccinated and return to work, but if not, they will be fired.

Amanda Peterson, a Confluence Health nurse of six years, applied for a religious exemption but also only received the 12 weeks of leave as an accommodation.

“It’s against my beliefs, and I believe in medical freedom,” Peterson said. “I believe that people should have a choice on any kind of medical procedures, especially experimental ones.”

Peterson said she now hopes that the mandate will end and employers will give them their jobs back because she does not plan on getting vaccinated.

Now on a leave of absence, Peterson and Caddy are worried about their expenses but ultimately chose to hold onto their religious conviction.

“I’ve got all these extra expenses that I wasn’t planning on already,” Caddy said. “It’s stressful at times, but I just feel this is what’s right for me.”

May Tussey, a business analyst with Confluence Health for about six years, said she was working from home full time but had decided to not get vaccinated because she had not seen the full effects of the vaccine.

Tussey said she turned out for the protest to voice her support for all the individuals who lost their jobs.

“I don’t think this is going to stop the mandate,” Tussey said. “But I wanted to let others know that they’re not alone. My husband and I both lost our jobs. We both worked at Confluence. We’re doing what we think is right, and we’re standing up for our medical freedom for ourselves and for our children.”

Katherine Thomas, who is running for Wenatchee School Board position 4, was at the protest on Tuesday. Thomas said her husband, an anesthetist, received a religious exemption and got the same 12-week leave of absence. He will be unable to work at Confluence Health, she said.

“It’s deeply, deeply affecting that they will fire their medical personnel,” she said.

Her opponent in the school board race, the incumbent Michelle Sandberg, could not be reached to comment.

Oscar Rodriguez: (509) 665-1179

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