By Alex Bridges

For The Sentinel

A crowd gathered at Warren Memorial Hospital on Sunday evening to protest Valley Health’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for workers.

At least 100 people stood along the sidewalk in front of the hospital on Leach Run Parkway in Front Royal, most of them holding signs of protest against the requirement that all employees be fully vaccinated or face termination.

Protesters held signs with statements such as: “Coercion is not consent;” “Freedom over force;” “There is no justification for taking away people’s freedom in the guise of safety;” “My body my choice.” Other signs had statements accusing Valley Health of punishing its workers now after praising them as heroes last year.

Protesters shouted messages at drivers passing by and encouraged motorists to “honk for medical freedom.” A similar demonstration was held Monday at Winchester Medical Center, which also drew about 100 protesters.

Valley Health announced in July that it would require all employees and contractors to receive their first COVID-19 vaccination injection by Oct. 1 and to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 1, unless they have a medical exemption.

Valley Health has 6,300 employees and affiliated physicians across its network of six hospitals and medical office partners. Valley Health also requires its employees to to be vaccinated against measles, mumps, rubella, varicella, tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. Inova Health System, which operates hospitals and other facilities in Northern Virginia, has required its 18,000 employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID by Sept. 1.

Many of Sunday night’s protesters work for Valley Health or know people employed with the system who face being fired if not vaccinated.

“Valley Health is a monopoly in our entire valley and they don’t care about safety or patients’ rights as well as the rights of their employees,” said Krista Adanitsch, who works at Winchester Medical Center. “It is my understanding that they are set to get federal funding for having met a quota for getting their staff vaccinated to a certain percentage.”

Adanitsch said she has not been vaccinated for COVID-19. She has received a medical exemption, which she said is difficult to obtain. Adanitsch said she refuses vaccines based on her morals and life experience. Adanitsch said she lost a child as a result of receiving a mandated vaccine while she was pregnant in nursing school. She also has a vaccine-injured son.

“Nurses are happy to accommodate in these situations, but there’s no accommodation — it’s either get the shot or get fired,” Adanitsch said.

Adanitsch went on to say that Valley Health did not show concern about nurses’ safety earlier during the pandemic.

“So when Valley Health says that this is about patients’ safety and they want to be the safest hospital in the nation, I call BS,” Adanitsch said. “This is about money that they stand to gain for having a certain percentage of their employees vaccinated so they can get a hold of a federal purse string.”

A Valley Health spokesperson said in an email on Monday that the system does not plan to reconsider the mandate nor does it expect to receive federal money for reaching a certain percentage of vaccinated employees.

Patience Francis held a sign stating “Vaccine injured can’t take jab = unemployed.” Francis said she was “vaccine-injured” while serving in the U.S. Air Force.

“I’ve lived here for 11 years and I love it and I’m trying to keep my job and I love old people, that’s what I do,” said Francis, who has worked for eight years for the Lynn Care long-term care center, a division of Valley Health.

“I absolutely love, love, love my job,” Francis said. “I have to leave by Oct. 1 if I don’t take the first jab.”

Francis said she feels a person’s vaccination status should not be a matter between a worker and the employer but rather a medical issue between a patient and a doctor. Francis said she received a medical exemption after discussing the vaccine with her doctor.

“And so they (Valley Health) say they’re going to take medical exemptions,” Francis said. “Well, I guess we’ll see about that.”

Front Royal Town Council last week voted down a proposed ordinance that would prohibit employers such as Valley Health from firing employees who refuse vaccination. Councilman E. Scott Lloyd, who sponsored the ordinance, participated in the protest Sunday.

Town police officers set up near the protest site. Valley Health security workers blocked protesters from parking on the hospital property. Many of the protesters parked at a nearby school.

– Contact Alex Bridges at abridges@nvdaily.com