This is the eighth in a series of stories of people losing their jobs because they have declined to take the required Covid-19 vaccination. The identities of these workers are being kept confidential because they fear reprisal. More stories will be included in future editions of this series as it continues this week. Previous interviews in this series are listed at the bottom of this story. Send your story to [email protected].
Paul is a longtime employee of Southcentral Foundation. He’ll be losing his job on Oct. 15, when the Covid-19 vaccine mandate goes into effect for all employees.
He’s at home right now, recovering from a serious case of Covid, which sent him to the Alaska Native Medical Center’s ANTHC hospital for two weeks.
There, he said, he was asked repeatedly by healthcare staff if he’d been vaccinated, and he noted a distinct change in his caregivers’ demeanor when they found out he was not.
Paul, 40, has asthma, and shortly after catching Covid went to the Tikahtnu Commons monoclonal antibody center in East Anchorage to see if he would qualify for the infusion treatment. But his oxygen levels were just too precarious and he was told to head to the emergency room.
There’s a short timeline for when the monoclonal antibody treatment works and for Paul, he was a day late.
“They tried hard, but after monitoring my oxygen, they told me I really needed to go to the hospital,” he said.
He was admitted at ANTHC, but his experience there has shaken his faith in the health care system. As a patient, he had three “roommates” while he was hospitalized, and he observed that the one who had answered “yes” to the question “Have you been vaccinated” was treated much more attentively. The others had to wait and wait for help.
“It just seemed consistent to me,” Paul said. For the man who was vaccinated, nurses showed up right away for whatever he needed.
One unvaccinated man begged the nurses to help him to the toilet. By the time a nurse arrived, he had soiled himself.
Another man was lectured by a doctor who told him, “I bet you wish you’d gotten the vaccine now.”
Paul was already sensing he wasn’t getting the best care, and didn’t know if he should say something about the pressure and blame being put on patients, or just stay quiet and hope to live to tell the story.
“They treated us like we actually intentionally got ourselves sick,” he said. When he asked if he could get back on vitamins like Vitamin D, C, and Zinc, he was rebuffed by the doctor on call, who questioned him about why he thought they would help. Paul’s own family physician had recommended them to him.
There were people he said who were good to him, too, he said. One was a member of the cleaning crew who brought him newspapers, and another was a kindly nurse and aide who helped bathe and shave him.
“But a few bad eggs can set the tone. If you’ve got a doctor who is yelling at you…” he said.
Paul’s oxygen was accidentally cut off and it took five minutes for someone to reach him and restart it. The next day, his oxygen was cut off again. His oxygen level was about 90 and by the time a nurse arrived it was down to 70. He felt pressure building in his lungs.
Paul, who has a large family across Alaska with deep roots in the state, finally reached out to a doctor at Southcentral Foundation and asked him to intervene and have the nursing staff check on him. People in the hospital who have Covid are not allowed to have visitors, and therefore have no one to advocate for them.
“But there are no checks and balances,” Paul said. “And now, with only vaccinated nurses and doctors, you don’t really have that other perspective. You are creating a system that is ‘trust the science and get vaccinated.'”
Paul doesn’t distrust the science, but he’s wary and with genetic hypertension, he knows the vaccine comes with risk for men in his age group.
As he is home recovering, this father of three children is not sure what the future holds. His job at Southcentral Foundation ends on Oct. 15 if he doesn’t get the Covid-19 vaccination. Because of his deeply held religious beliefs, Paul is refusing to get it, as he believes its development came at the expense of an aborted fetus .
But ANTHC and Southcentral Foundation do not need to adhere to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, because of their status as a tribal organization. And so, after 19 years at Southcentral Foundation, Paul will be shown the door on Oct. 15, and he’s not entirely sure what he will do to support his family.