SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Religious exemptions are under review as hospitals continue to require the COVID vaccine for its employees. The deadline to get vaccinated is approaching for local hospitals not only for employees but students too.
Students across 16 programs at Ozarks Technical College (OTC) are participating in clinicals at Mercy and Cox in Springfield. Students with clinicals had until the end of august to apply for exemption from the COVID vaccine. The application includes questions like how you observe your religion and how getting the COVID vaccine will affect you. Some exemptions were approved, while others were denied.
“There has been three students that I know of that have put in for the exemption at Mercy,” OTC Dean of Health Sciences Dr. Aaron Light said. “Two of them were granted the exemption, a third one was not.”
Students approved will wear N95 masks and get frequent COVID tests at Mercy. OTC said Cox’s requirements look different.
“[Cox] is allowing for exemptions,” Light said. “Even if [cox] grants the exemption, it will not allow a student into a clinical area unless they’re vaccinated. It’s accepting the possibility of exempting [students] from it, but it won’t allow them in those areas unless they are vaccinated.”
Clinicals require space and specific equipment for students to get the required experience. OTC has looked for other facilities to have clinicals, but most places are announcing vaccine requirements.
“We can’t lessen the experience because they need that knowledge to be able to pass their boards,” Light said. “If they don’t have the experience and they can’t pass their boards, it doesn’t really matter if they graduate or not. They still can’t go out and practice in the profession that they are wanting to go into. That’s the unique balance that we’re trying to do is still provide the high level of education that they need to achieve their goals.”
Those who were denied a religious exemption either have to get the vaccine or withdrawal from the program. Practical Nursing Student Taylah Medley applied for a religious exemption but was denied. She appealed, and was denied again.
“I read the Torah and the Book of Enoch and then I listened to lions of Israel and Big Levi,” Medley said.
This program is a stepping stone for Medley.
“I don’t want to work in a hospital,” Medley said. “I have an esthetician license. I want to go and delve deeper into doing skin care but I need a nursing license in order to work on certain layers.”
OTC wants to get students across the finish line. With more hospitals announcing vaccine requirements, options are slim.
“We have contracts with these facilities that we have to comply with,” Light said. “Our hands are honestly, really tied. It’s not us not granting the exemption. It’s not us making any sort of accommodations or not making accommodations. We literally can’t send them to certain locations if they’re not vaccinated or if they’re not given religious exemptions.”
“I have a 3.0 right now,” Medley said. “I’ve been working hard. I’m tired and just going through school this whole time and just staying encouraged and keeping my grades up in clinicals. I feel like I’m just working a lot harder than everybody else right now.”
Mercy’s deadline to get vaccinated is September 30. Cox is asking employees to get their first dose by October 15.