POTSDAM — My name is Ben Hull, and it has been my distinct privilege to serve as director of the Center for Cancer Care at Canton-Potsdam Hospital for the last four years. However, I reluctantly and regretfully submitted my resignation Aug. 30.
I would like to share my rationale for leaving the hospital as well as offer insight into an impending regional health care crisis.
My decision to resign was in direct response to the state Department of Health’s removal of religious exemptions to the forthcoming COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers. The state’s outright refusal to acknowledge religious exemptions is a slap in the face to those of faith who serve in health care. It is a statement of defiance that forces employees to either violate their religious convictions or abandon their jobs.
Religious convictions affect each person’s medical decisions uniquely. Our community is filled with people of multiple faith backgrounds who are unwaveringly opposed to the methods and origins of some or all of the approved vaccines.
I don’t personally share all of those opinions. But I respect them, and I will defend them on the grounds of religious liberty.
My decision to resign over this policy, especially since I am fully vaccinated, may seem extreme. However, it is no more extreme than forcing health care facilities to terminate employees for adhering to their sincerely held religious convictions. As a matter of principle, I cannot in good conscience partake in such a draconian policy.
I am grieved by the reality that on Sept. 27, our health care facilities will be compelled to force dedicated staff out of employment if their religious views stand in the way of vaccination percentage targets. To pour salt on the wound, these employees will be “terminated with cause” and will not be eligible to receive unemployment benefits. The very same people who have selflessly served our community on the front lines of a pandemic response for 18 months will be unceremoniously kicked to the curb.
The state also has clarified that medical exemptions will be very narrowly granted. Most concerning, pregnancy in and of itself will not constitute sufficient grounds for a medical exemption. It is morally despicable that our state is forcing expectant mothers into a decision between choosing what they believe is best for their baby and the government’s public health interest.
For example, one talented and respected employee at the hospital is in her first trimester. And by the end of the month, she will be out of a job. She will not receive a dime in unemployment.
She will be denied access to the Paid Family Leave funds to which she contributed. And she will be legally unable to practice her profession in New York State — all for the high crime of opting not to bear the long-term risks of a vaccine that has existed for all of 18 months. In her words, “It seems so evil, I can’t even fathom it all.”
If the state chooses to persist in this egregious violation of rights of conscience, our local health care system will be severely weakened by the end of September. Artificial staffing shortages caused by this policy are already shuttering departments in our local hospitals.
And absent a significant change in trajectory, the health of our community will suffer. These policies will directly harm our families, our neighbors and the sickest in our midst.
Who bears the responsibility for these unjust decisions? Our state leadership.
The pain and suffering caused by understaffed hospitals and clinics will fall on the shoulders of those who have wrongly wielded the coercive power of government. Many of our local health care leaders are striving to minimize the impact of this terrible policy on our operations and workforce, and they should be commended for that effort.
So what can you do right now? If you work in health care, do not violate your conscience.
That doesn’t mean leave your job, but you have a voice — use it. You standing up for what is right will make a difference.
What can you do if you’re not a health care worker? Make your voice heard by calling Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office (518-474-8390) and the state Department of Health Commissioner Howard Zucker’s office (518-474-2011). You can amplify your voice by partnering with community organizations to take a stand against this mistreatment of health care workers.
Lastly, I ask that you pray for our government leadership as well as those in influence within our local health care facilities. Pray that they would be granted clarity of mind to do what is right for our patients and our community.