This is the 15th in a series of stories of people being fired from 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. Previous interviews in this series are listed and linked at the bottom of this story. Send your story to [email protected].
Friday was going to be a hard day for Grace. She drove to Southcentral Foundation with her computer and her keys, as she was being fired for not complying with the Native health organization’s Covid-19 vaccine mandate.
But instead of it being traumatic, on her way to the office, she was surprisingly calm.
“Psalm 121 is my favorite verse of the Bible. ‘I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help! My help cometh from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.'” Grace said. As she looked up at the Chugach Mountains, she was at peace with her decision.
Friday was the final day for many at Southcentral Foundation, and for Grace, it was the start of a three-day “administrative leave without pay.” That ends Wednesday, and she’ll be looking for another job, after spending the past 13 years helping Native Alaskans get healthy.
Grace isn’t the only one who has lost her job, but the hospitals are not being forthcoming about how many they are firing due to a refusal to get the Covid-19 vaccine. Grace knows of at least 50 who are in a group chat — they are workers who were at Southcentral Foundation or Alaska Native Medical Center. They share information and support each other.
“I have a lot of people praying for me,” she said. She’s done a lot of praying herself. And crying. Her family needs the income she brings in to make their mortgage. Not working is not an option.
Grace is not sure that, even if she got the Covid shot, she would have complied with showing Southcentral Foundation management her vaccination card. For her, it’s a civil rights issue. She is Alaska Native and many of her forebears and siblings have served in the U.S. military, and in war zones. The thing they fought for are what she values most: Freedom.
“I can’t throw that freedom away,” she said, recalling a family member who served in Vietnam and suffered for years afterwards.
Grace, like others, had a hard time finding the form to request a medical exemption from Southcentral, but she finally did locate it, with help from her supervisor. And she got a letter from her medical doctor, who is not with Southcentral Foundation, saying that she should have the exemption; she has allergies to flu shots and she also had Covid-19 last year, before the vaccine was available. Grace still has lingering effects from her bout with Covid.
But Southcentral Foundation refused to honor her doctor’s letter.
Her faith is carrying her through. Her prayer warriors are praying for her and her family. And she believes God will restore to her “sevenfold what the thief took from me,” she said, quoting Scripture.
What bothers her most is that Southcentral says it’s dedicated to the “whole health care health care system created, managed and owned by Alaska Native people to achieve physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellness.”
Grace was not just an employee, but she is a customer-owner, as patients there are called. She doesn’t feel like the company is taking care of the employees’ physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellness. She feels like the employees’ rights have been stripped from them. That’s been deeply disappointing to her.
“My goal is to end up well,” Grace said. She may be out of a job, but she’s not doubting her decision.
With her rock-solid faith, she is moving on with the “peace that passes all understanding.”