Samaritan nurses speak out against vaccine mandate at Watertown protest


WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWTI) — Dozens of people gathered at the Public Square in Watertown on Saturday to speak out against COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

Many held signs showcasing their cause, including registered nurses at Samaritan hospital Rhea Pelletier and Addie Bokelman. Pelletier has been a nurse at Samaritan Medical Center for over 10 years and said the loss the hospital may experience from the mandate could be detrimental. 

“Why we’re here today is like I said, simply because we want to stand up for our Constitutional rights,” Pelletier said. “What Samaritan is going to actually experience once this mandate goes into effect, it’s going to be absolutely catastrophic.”

Bokelman has been working as a nurse for the past year and spoke about the knowledge she’s gained working alongside Pelletier. She said Pelletier and other nurses were able to show her what it took to be a good nurse including the level of compassion that is needed and could not be learned in school. She said she fears losing the opportunity to learn from the experienced health care providers that may lose their jobs due to the mandate.

“Covid is a huge deal and it is important to fight against it, but what are you losing on the flip side?” Bokelman said.”My question is, is it worth it? What kind of characteristics do you want in your health care provider, do you want someone that’s vaccinated or do you want someone that’s skilled, experienced, compassionate, kind?”

She pointed out the doctors, nurses, medical assistants, dietary professionals, physical therapists and that could be lost as a result of the mandate. Pelletier added that her vaccination status does not affect her ability to do her job, and stressed the precautions nurses take regardless such as wearing masks, gloves, goggles, and more.

“So you’re not being treated by an unvaccinated nurse, you’re being treated by a nurse that chooses not to place something in their body, and takes every precaution possible to not transmit anything,” Pelletier said.

Pelletier said it’s not about what side you’re on but rather the reality of the loss the mandate will cause, the right to choose what goes into her body, and her ability to continue helping patients as she has over the last decade. 

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