LITCHFIELD – City officials have asked Governor Janet Mills to lift the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for healthcare workers.
In a letter to Mills, Litchfield officials expressed concern that the requirement violated the philosophical and religious freedoms of health workers and could lead to a shortage of emergency services across the state.
Originally introduced in August, the mandate required all healthcare workers to be fully vaccinated by October 1st. It defined healthcare workers as anyone who works for a hospital, multi-tier health facility, home health authority, nursing facility or nursing facility, government licensed nursing facility, and rescue workers.
Earlier this month, Governor Mills announced that the deadline would be extended to October 29 to give health care workers more time to get vaccinated. She also said $ 146 million in state and federal funding would be allocated to care facilities, nursing homes, adult nursing homes and hospitals to help them recruit and retain workforce during the pandemic.
The package sent to the governor contains a cover letter from the city manager Kelly Weissenfels, written statements from Fire Chief Michael Sherman and Gary Parker, Chair of the Litchfield Board of Selectmen, and a resolution signed by the Selectmen and adopted unanimously.
In his statement, Sherman said the department would lose about a quarter of its 22-person list as a result of the rule. He said these crew members had ideological objections to the mandate.
The chief made it clear that the city was against the mandate itself, but not against vaccines in general.
“These things are often painted as a bunch of anti-Vaxxers,” Sherman said. âWe’re talking about people who are intelligent, people who have talked to their doctors. We’re talking about people who care a lot about these things and have had numerous vaccines in the past. We’re not talking about a bunch of people against vaccines here. We reject a mandate; We are against forced vaccination. “
Weissenfels shared similar views about the crew in his cover letter to Governor Janet Mills.
“These are people who willingly give up what they are doing to help friends and neighbors,” wrote the city manager. âYou understand personal sacrifice. They have been working safely in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis for over a year. These are people who generally advocate vaccinations and should not be released. “
A resolution that was unanimously adopted by the board was also included in the package, which states that the board should âwithdraw the [mandate] and calls on the state to be better at planning and implementing safety measures related to COVID-19 vaccines. “
As of Monday, a total of eight Litchfield Fire & Rescue employees will be unvaccinated. Of those eight, Sherman says two plan to get the vaccine before the deadline and another has received information from his doctor that he is medically exempt. He said it was currently unclear whether this exception would be recognized under the rules of the mandate.
As the city will deal with the potential loss, Wesseinfels said Litchfield would likely increase mutual aid with vendors in surrounding communities.
Sherman noted that while some members of the department oppose the mandate, they still choose the vaccine.
“They believe it is more important to keep responding to calls and be a part of the department than to fight it,” he said. âIt happens here. I think it’s important to point out that despite their resistance, people who oppose it choose to get it because they believe it’s the right thing to do. “
Sherman said he has no intention of violating the mandate or stepping down in protest. Instead, he plans to obey the law while fighting to have it changed or repealed.
“Although I vehemently oppose this rule, I am passionately opposed to this rule, because as chief I have no choice but to comply,” he wrote. “So it is this chief’s position to obey the law to the best of his ability and fight as hard as possible to change it.”
Sherman and Weissenfels temporarily considered filing a lawsuit against the state, but are no longer pursuing it.
WeiÃenfels said the city is no longer looking for a lawyer after learning that a class action lawsuit alleging violations of religious freedom was pending against the mandate.
The chief said the guidelines of organizations like the Maine Municipal Association, the Maine Fire Chiefs’ Association, and the EMS board are to follow the rules of the mandate.
“Our city’s lawyer advised us to follow the guidelines,” he said. “We have not received legal advice to do anything other than follow the guidelines.”
MMA Director Catherine Conlow said that while the organization has not followed up requests and inquiries regarding the mandate, it has received several from Maine communities.
“If the questions relate to legal action against the mandate, we would refer them back to their attorney,” said Conlow.
Sherman said he spoke to departments in other communities that are also against the mandate. As with Litchfield, these departments face potential loss of employees.
“I’ve heard numbers similar to ours,” he said. “Three to four people is a pretty common number that these agencies will lose.”
WeiÃenfels said the city office had not received any calls from residents on the matter, but they did get some replies on their Facebook page after posting their rejection of the mandate.
“There weren’t any overwhelming opinions one way or the other,” he said. “We have a lot of support for our volunteers, that seems consistent across the board.”
Another 867 COVID-19 cases, no new deaths reported in Maine