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Rock Island County health department employees suspended for refusing COVID-19 vaccine

The employees say they won't be getting the vaccine, while the Health Department says those employees will be terminated starting November 1st

ROCK ISLAND, Ill — Several Rock Island County Health Department employees are speaking out after being suspended without pay for refusing to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, and if they fail to get a vaccine by November 1st, they’ll be fired.

Sheri Duhme and Deanna Brumbaugh have been with the health department for quite some time. Duhme has worked there for over 16 years, and Brumbaugh has been with the county for 8 years. But now their careers are coming to an abrupt halt.

“The only thing that’s in questions is will I take the vaccine or not?” Duhme said. “And no, I will not take the vaccine.”

The women work in the environmental health department. They do things like restaurant inspections, tanning salon and tattoo parlor inspections, and septic tank and water improvement. They say it should be up to them if they decide to get a shot or not.

“This is basically a medical procedure," Duhme sharing her opinion, saying, "that they’re injecting, who knows what into your body."

Per Governor J.B. Pritzker’s executive order all health care employees in Illinois are required to either receive a vaccine against COVID-19 or comply with weekly testing. However, an organization or company can choose to enact a stricter policy that does not allow for weekly testing, which is what the county has decided to do. All three of the women News 8 spoke with are considered health care workers, thus falling under the Governor's executive order. 

Janet Hill is the chief operating officer at the county health department. The board of health has the authority to enact that stricter policy if they so choose per the Governor's mandate. Hill says their decision to do so means the health department and all employees will have to follow it. 

“The board of health came to this conclusion and the board of health is the governing body so if they say we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it,” Hill said.

It means Duhme and Brumbaugh are currently on a two week suspension without pay, and will be fired if they aren’t vaccinated by November 1st. Both women have worked with the health department throughout the pandemic, with one of them helping to administer vaccines at the mass vaccination sites. 

The women say for them their decision to not receive the vaccine is a religious matter.

“Revelations in the bible clearly states that the mark of the beast is required to participate in society,” Brumbaugh said. “And I wholeheartedly feel that this right now is the mark of the beast, take it if you want to survive. And I don’t feel that’s right, and I don’t willingly want to participate in that.”

Both women say they weren't told their religious exemptions were denied until they were called in for their disciplinary hearings.

“They made us write a religious exemption, which is basically a wholehearted search to define what our beliefs are,” Duhme. “And now they want us to throw them away and just do it because they tell us to. It’s unacceptable.”

Another employee who wants to remain anonymous says she also wants to and is willing to do weekly testing instead of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.

“I’m willing to comply with that because it should be a thing,” she said. “They said my religious exemption form was denied and they did not give a reason why it was denied.”

The three women say they are now working with their union to save their jobs.

“I understand that people are dying in the country. People have died from it. But it’s not the black plague,” Duhme said. “People can survive. People can get protected if they want it and if they don’t, don’t. You know there are ways that people get through it, people are surviving it every day.”

Hill made no indication when speaking to News 8 that the department has any plans to overturn their decision on making the vaccines mandatory.