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Brittany Minahan, a former registered nurse at Wayne UNC Health Care, talks about why she resigned from the hospital over its COVID-19 vaccine mandate and testing requirements for unvaccinated workers who receive a qualifying exemption.

Brittany Minahan enjoyed working as a nurse at Wayne UNC Health Care but finished her last shift Sunday after deciding to forego ongoing COVID-19 testing after receiving an exemption from the hospital’s requirement to get the vaccine.

In July, Wayne UNC Health Care decided to require COVID-19 vaccines for all employees by Sept. 21. Those declining would be terminated, unless they were approved for an exemption for medical or religious reasons. The hospital’s deadline has been extended until Nov. 2, hospital officials said.

Minahan, 29, who had been with Wayne UNC Health Care since 2018, resigned Aug. 21. She applied for a religious exemption and was initially placed on unpaid leave but eventually granted an exemption only to find out that she would be required to be tested for the virus at the hospital twice a week, she said.

Frustrated, she resigned and decided to pursue a career in nursing elsewhere.

“I’m not going to be punished for making a medical decision that I have made,” Minahan said. “I’m not going to be discriminated against for not taking the vaccine. I’m not going to test two times a week when you should really only test if you have symptoms.”

She became a nurse because she enjoys caring for patients and their families.

“Sometimes patients go through a dark time in their lives and even the smallest, simplest things that we wouldn’t really think about sometimes could make their day,” Minahan said.

She said her personal freedom to choose is under attack by employers and the government.

“I totally believe in the freedom to choose,” she said. “Freedom to choose whether you want a vaccine or not. And when you take that choice away from people, that’s very dangerous. That’s what our forefathers came here for, for freedom and now (others are) taking that away and they are taking it away very rapidly.

“For me, nobody will tell me what I will and will not put in my body. That is my decision.”

Minahan also said she isn’t anti-vaccine.

“It is not my job to persuade or discourage anyone from taking a vaccine,” she said. “If somebody decides, ‘I want to take this vaccine, I think it will protect me. I am happy with that decision.’ Great, I am happy for them. I’m happy that they can make that decision on their own and accept the vaccine.”

On the other hand, if people object to the vaccine, Minahan said they have that right to say no as well.

“I do not believe in forcing any pill, any vaccine, anything on anybody,” she said.

Minahan said that many of her co-workers are afraid to stand up to employers who mandate vaccines and some are afraid to attend rallies out of fear that they may be retaliated against.

Another local nurse, who was interested in telling her story, later declined an interview due to concerns regarding future employment in the Wayne County area.

“The unvaccinated are being bullied,” Minahan said. They’re being harassed. They’re being oppressed and coerced to take this vaccine when really it is nobody else’s business but their own as far as accepting the vaccine.”

Jessie Tucker, president and chief executive officer of Wayne UNC Health Care, said Friday that 37 of the hospital’s 1,550 employees have left between July 23 and Friday and that eight employees are currently suspended without pay until Nov. 2.

Tucker said of the 37 employees who have left the hospital, 15 were nurses.

“Fortunately, during this same period, we’ve hired 95 new employees (20 of which are nurses), plus 56 traveler nurses for a total of 149 new teammates,” Tucker said. “The new employees have all started but the remaining 22 of 54 traveler nurses will join us weekly between now and Oct. 13. As a result, we are working on plans to open additional beds in the hospital during this projected surge (of COVID-19 patients).”

Tucker said that 92.3% of employees are vaccinated and approximately 7% of employees have either a medical or religious exemption. The remaining employees are suspended without pay, have resigned or have been terminated.

Minahan said she never wanted things to end like this and that if not for the vaccine mandate and testing requirements, she’d still be at Wayne UNC Health Care.

“I worked on a great unit,” she said. “I loved my job and if it weren’t for this, I’d still be there. I worked with amazing co-workers, co-workers that I absolutely love, still love and will hang out with.”