Vaccine mandate’s negative affect on hospital exaggerated

by Kathleen Sloan | September 17, 2021
7 min read
The advice regarding COVID-19 vaccinations dispensed by Sierra Vista Hospital on its website has been followed by the vast majority of its employees. Source: SVH

Three Sierra Vista Hospital board members—two Joint Powers Commissioners and one Governing Board member—raised alarm bells at the Sept. 15 Elephant Butte City Council meeting. They claimed Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s latest COVID-19 public health order imposing vaccination or testing requirements on hospital and health care workers will make it difficult to hire and to keep staff members, possibly causing the hospital to close.

In a phone call today with the Sun, SVH Human Resources Director Tim James said: “The hospital is proceeding with normal operations. We are not at all in danger of closing.”

He continued: “We lost a few employees [at the beginning of the pandemic], but there is not a steady bleed of employees about this [masking, vaccination and testing protocols required by state and federal health orders]. Our employee numbers are steady.”

“The [state’s] public health order was extended to Oct. 15 and will probably be extended again,” James noted. “We are trying to keep politics and religion out of the hospital. We discourage our employees from having political or religious discussions. We follow the state and CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] orders. We are not seeing a problem with staff following these orders.”

Since the latest state public health order was handed down by the governor on Aug. 17, the hospital has lost six employees who did not want to comply with the vaccination or testing requirements, James said today. Only one worked with patients.

Kathy Elverum, Elephant Butte’s representative on the Governing Board, briefed the Elephant Butte City Council on Wednesday about the public health’s order impact on the hospital. Elverum said the “unintended consequences” of the Aug. 17 order was a loss of clinicians, according to a roundup story about the council meeting written by Chuck Wentworth and published today in the print edition of the Sierra County Sentinel. Elverum said that the clinical staff has to work “double shifts,” in order to keep various operations open, such as “intensive care units,” the article reported.

The hospital has had no response to its traveling nurses’ ad offering $135 an hour, Eleverum is also reported to have said.

“Yes, some employees are picking up extra shifts,” HR Director James acknowledged to the Sun, “but that is not because of people having left. There is a shortage of staff across the country. We are just about completely covered.”

Concerning traveling nurses, James said: “We’ve always had to have traveling RNs. Pay for them has increased because of COVID. They make a lot of money traveling and we are competing nationally.” 

The Elephant Butte City Council responded with alarm to Elverum’s misinformed Governing Board report.

Elephant Butte City Councilor Travis Atwell, who is also a JPC member, said: “Due to the governor’s unconstitutional mandates, we may want to start a class action.”

“I agree,” said Elephant Butte Mayor Pro Tem Kim Skinner, also a JPC member. “This is why we didn’t want vaccines to be required. There are a lot of people who hold strong beliefs.”

“This will, unfortunately, be the death of our hospital,” Atwell concluded.

The council instructed Elephant Butte Attorney Ben Young to research the viability of a class-action suit. Because the county is the fiscal agent for the Joint Powers Commission, which is the hospital’s owners board, Young was asked to confer with Sierra County Attorney Dave Pato. He will also contact the hospital’s attorney, David Johnson.


Despite having raised this alarm, Elverum was among those who unanimously passed a policy complying with the governor’s public health order at a special meeting of the hospital’s Governing Board held Sept. 9.

The public was not allowed to attend the meeting in person, but could call to listen in. Because the audio was so bad, none of the proceedings could be heard. The Sun’s sources of information about the Sept. 9 meeting are the minutes prepared by Jennifer Burns, an administrative assistant at the hospital, which were released on Sept. 14, and the responses to the Sun’s follow-up question-and-answer email written by Human Resources Director Tim James on Sept. 15.

James, Sheila Adams, the hospital’s interim chief executive officer and chief nursing officer and Hospital Attorney David Johnson drafted the policy, according to the meeting minutes.

“The purpose of the policy is to comply with the order and protect our employees, non-employees, patients and families of Sierra Vista Hospital from contracting or spreading COVID-19,” the minutes state.

The policy mirrors the governor’s Aug. 17 public health order in requiring all hospital staff to have a first shot or to be fully vaccinated by Aug. 27. A second shot is to be received within 40 days of the first shot.

Exemptions were to be submitted by Aug. 27. Medical and disability exemptions required documentation signed by a doctor or nurse practitioner or other qualifying medical staff. Religious exemptions required, as stated in the public health order, a “documented request regarding the manner in which the administration of a COVID-19 vaccine conflicts with the religious observance or practice or belief of the individual.”

If an exemption is attained, the staff member must then submit a weekly COVID-19 test to hospital administration, proving the absence of infection.

James told the Governing Board on Sept. 9 “no hospital in the state,” including Sierra Vista, had been able to comply with the Aug. 27 deadline.

The exemptions were still being processed as of Sept. 9, with 24 applications having been received by that date.

A testing schedule for Sierra Vista’s 186 employees—the total excludes contract workers—was being arranged, James said, according to the minutes, although the state order requires only staff with exemptions to be tested weekly.

Governing Board Chairperson Greg D’Amour said that testing for all staff is warranted because of the high number of cases in the community and because vaccinated persons can still transmit the virus.

Chief Nursing Officer Adams reported that COVID cases in Sierra County went “from three to 25 in one week.”

“All our COVID positive patients have been non-vaccinated,” Adams added.

“There are hospital beds available in New Mexico, the problem is there is not enough staff to care for the patients,” Adams concluded.


The number of vaccinated and exempted employees was not made available to the Governing Board on Sept. 9. James gave an update on those figures in his Sept. 15 email to the Sun, and the data he provided supports his assertion that the hospital is not “bleeding” employees.

The vast majority of hospital employees have been vaccinated. Ninety percent of employees with direct patient contact have received at least one shot; the figure for the entire staff is 86 percent.

“We consider every employee at Sierra Vista Hospital to be frontline workers,” James wrote. “We have a total of 126 staff with direct patient contact. 114 of those staff have been vaccinated. 12 have not been vaccinated and all 12 have approved exemptions.”

“We currently have a total of 194 regular staff and contractors employed at the hospital. 158 of those employees are fully vaccinated, 9 have received the first dose of the vaccine with the second dose to be administered within 40 days of the first dose.”

Employees who have been granted exemptions comprise slightly less than 14 percent of the total staff, including contractors.

“To protect the privacy of our employees,” James informed the Sun, “we will not specify whether exemptions are Religious or Medical. We have approved 26 exemptions from the COVID-19 vaccination.”

“We have one exemption still pending approval which will be approved prior to the employee going on shift,” James wrote. “If it is not approved by that time, the employee will not be allowed to work until the exemption is approved. 

 “We have had six staff members resign specifically due to the mandates in the Public Health Order,” James reported.


The Sun asked James why the Governing Board, after holding a closed session on Sept. 9, voted to give employees a raise. He provided the following clarification:

“This was not a ‘raise.’ That term is associated with a permanent pay adjustment. What was proposed and approved by the SVH Board of Directors was a temporary wage adjustment for hazard pay related to the current surge in the COVID-19 pandemic. The Hazard pay adjustment is for a defined time span from the pay period beginning Aug. 29 and stopping with the pay period ending Oct. 23.

“The amount of the wage adjustment was 15 percent across the board for all regular staff and 30 percent for the current three-member Administrative Team. Contract staff was not included in the pay increase since their pay is determined by contractual agreement. The temporary wage adjustment was given to regular staff as recognition of and compensation for the extraordinary circumstances imposed on our healthcare workers by the current surge in the pandemic.”

Kathleen Sloan is the Sun’s founder and chief reporter. She can be reached at or 575-297-4146.
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Understanding New Mexico's proposed new social studies standards for K-12 students

“The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.”
—National Council for the Social Studies 

Reader Michael L. Hayes of Las Cruces commented: What impresses me is that both the proposed standards and some of the criticisms of them are equally grotesque. I make this bold statement on the basis of my experience as a peripatetic high school and college English teacher for 45 years in many states with many students differing in race, religion, gender and socioeconomic background, and as a civic activist (PTA) in public education (My career, however, was as an independent consultant mainly in defense, energy and the environment.)

The proposed social studies standards are conceptually and instructionally flawed. For starters, a “performance standard” is not a standard at all; it is a task. Asking someone to explain something is not unlike asking someone to water the lawn. Nothing measures the performance, but without a measure, there is no standard. The teacher’s subjective judgment will be all that matters, and almost anything will count as satisfying a “performance standard,” even just trying. Students will be left to wonder “what is on the teacher’s mind?” or “have I sucked up enough.”

Four other quick criticisms of the performance standards. One, they are nearly unintelligible because they are written in jargon. PED’s use of jargon in a document intended for the public is worrisome. Bureaucrats often use jargon to confuse or conceal something uninformed, wrong or unworthy. As a result, most parents, some school board members and more than a few teachers do not understand them.

Two, the performance standards are so vague that they fail to define the education which teachers are supposed to teach, students are supposed to learn, and parents are supposed to understand. PED does not define words like “explain” or “describe” so that teachers can apply “standards” consistently and fairly. The standards do not indicate what teachers are supposed to know in order to teach or specify what students are supposed to learn. Supervisors cannot know whether teachers are teaching social studies well or poorly. The standards are so vague that the public, especially parents or guardians, cannot know the content of public education.

Three, many performance standards are simply unrealistic, especially at grade level. Under “Ethnic, Cultural and Identity Performance Standards”; then under “Diversity and Identity”; then under “Kindergarten,” one such standard is: “Identify how their family does things both the same as and different from how other people do things.” Do six-year-olds know how other people do things? Do they know whether these things are relevant to diversity and identity? Or another standard: “Describe their family history, culture, and past to current contributions of people in their main identity groups.” (A proficient writer would have hyphenated the compound adjective to avoid confusing the reader.) Do six-year-olds know so much about these things in relation to their “identity group”? Since teachers obviously do not teach them about these other people and have not taught them about these groups, why are these and similar items in the curriculum; or do teachers assign them to go home and collect this information?

Point four follows from “three”; some information relevant to some performance measures requires a disclosure of personal or family matters. The younger the students, the easier it is for teachers to invade their privacy and not only their privacy, but also the privacy of their parents or guardians, or neighbors, who may never be aware of these disclosures or not become aware of them until afterward. PED has no right to design a curriculum which requires teachers to ask students for information about themselves, parents or guardians, or neighbors, or puts teachers on the spot if the disclosures reveal criminal conduct. (Bill says Jeff’s father plays games in bed with his daughter. Lila says Angelo’s mother gives herself shots in the arm.) Since teacher-student communications have no legal protection to ensure privacy, those disclosures may become public accidentally or deliberately. The effect of these proposal standards is to turn New Mexico schools and teachers into investigative agents of the state and students into little informants or spies.

This PED proposal for social studies standards is a travesty of education despite its appeals to purportedly enlightened principles. It constitutes a clear and present danger to individual liberty and civil liberties. It should be repudiated; its development, investigated; its PED perpetrators, dismissed. No state curriculum should encourage or require the disclosure of private personal information.

I am equally outraged by the comments of some of T or C’s school board members: Christine LaFont and Julianne Stroup, two white Christian women, who belong to one of the larger minorities in America and assume white and Christian privileges. In different terms but for essentially the same reason, both oppose an education which includes lessons about historical events and trends, and social movements and developments, of other minorities. They object to the proposal for the new social studies standards because of its emphasis on individual and group identities not white or Christian. I am not going to reply with specific objections; they are too numerous and too pointed.

Ms. LaFont urges: “It’s better to address what’s similar with all Americans. It’s not good to differentiate.” Ms. Stroup adds: “Our country is not a racist country. We have to teach to respect each other. We have civil rights laws that protect everyone from discrimination. We need to teach civics, love and respect. We need to teach how to be color blind.”

Their desires for unity and homogeneity, and for mutual respect, are a contradiction and an impossibility. Aside from a shared citizenship, which implies acceptance of the Constitution, the rule of law and equality under the law, little else defines Americans. We are additionally defined by our race, religion, national origin, etc. So mutual respect requires individuals to respect others different from themselves. Disrespect desires blacks, Jews or Palestinians to assimilate or to suppress or conceal racial, religious or national origin aspects of their identity. The only people who want erasure of nonwhite, non-Christian, non-American origin aspects of identity are bigots. Ms. LaFont and Ms. Stroud want standards which, by stressing similarities and eliding differences, desire the erasure of such aspects. What they want will result in a social studies curriculum that enables white, Christian, native-born children to grow up to be bigots and all others to be their victims. This would be the academic equivalent of ethnic cleansing.


This postmortem of a case involving a 75-year-old women who went missing from her home in Hillsboro last September sheds light on the bounds of law enforcement’s capacity to respond, especially in large rural jurisdictions such as Sierra County, and underscores the critical role the public, as well as concerned family and friends, can play in assisting a missing person’s search.

Reader Jane Debrott of Hillsboro commented: Thank you for your article on the tragic loss of Betsey. I am a resident of Hillsboro, a friend of Rick and Betsey, and a member of H.E.L.P. The thing that most distresses me now, is the emphasis on Rick’s mis-naming of the color of their car. I fear that this fact will cause Rick to feel that if he had only gotten the facts right, Betsey may have been rescued before it was too late. The incident was a series of unavoidable events, out of everyone’s control, and we will never know what place the correct color of her car may have had in the outcome. It breaks my heart to think that Rick has had one more thing added to his “what ifs” concerning this incident.

Diana Tittle responded: Dear Jane, the Sun undertook this investigation at the request of a Hillsboro resident concerned about the town’s inability to mount a prompt, coordinated response to the disappearance of a neighbor. From the beginning, I shared your concern about how our findings might affect Betsy’s family and friends. After I completed my research and began writing, I weighed each detail I eventually chose to include against my desire to cause no pain and the public’s right to know about the strengths and limitations of law enforcement’s response and the public’s need to know about how to be of meaningful assistance.

There was information I withheld about the state police investigation and the recovery. But I decided to include the issue of the car’s color because the individuals who spotted Betsy’s car emphasized how its color had been key to their identification of it as the vehicle described in Betsy’s Silver Alert. Because the misinformation was corrected within a couple of hours, I also included in this story the following editorial comment meant to put the error in perspective: “The fact that law enforcement throughout the state was on the lookout in the crucial early hours after Betsy’s disappearance for an elderly woman driving a “light blue” instead of a “silver” Accord would, in retrospect, likely not have changed the outcome of the search” [emphasis added].

I would also point to the story’s overarching conclusion about the inadvisability of assigning blame for what happened: “In this case, a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances, many of them beyond human control, hindered the search that it would fall to Hamilton’s department to lead.”

It is my hope that any pain caused by my reporting will eventually be outweighed by its contribution to a better community understanding of what it will take in the future to mount a successful missing person’s search in rural Sierra County.

4 thoughts on “Vaccine mandate’s negative affect on hospital exaggerated”

  1. One would think that a hospital would be the one place that anti-vaccine hysteria would be repudiated by evidence-based hard science. Personally, I would rather not be cared for by staff who are unvaccinated and uninformed, were I to be admitted to the hospital. Also, as a former healthcare professional, I was required to be vaccinated for a number of diseases, including hepatitis B, measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus and a few others. It’s not unconstitutional, it’s a condition of employment. Additionally, due to a childhood paralysis, I am not able to get flu shots or shingles shots and had to wear a mask at work during flu season, but I was able to get the COVID vaccine without any issues.

    As for the religious exemption, I understand it stems from the use of fetal cell lines (from the 1970s and ’80s) during the research and development stage. The vaccine itself doesn’t contain any fetal cells at all. If this is objectionable to some, they should know that these same cell lines were used to develop drugs like Tylenol, aspirin, Lipitor, Maalox, Benadryl, Sudafed, Prilosec, Tums, Claritin, Preparation H and numerous others. To avoid hypocrisy, these folks should swear off all these medications and more.

    Hospitals all over the country are having staffing issues, much of it due to overwork and burnout, which must be particularly frustrating when 90 percent of the COVID-19 ICU patients could have avoided hospitalization with a couple simple tiny injections.

  2. Valerie Two Wolves

    I agree in principal with everything Lucy Gilliland wrote. I suspect that there are people all over this country who every day ingest (or apply topically) something that contains ingredients that don’t understand/can’t explain the purpose of. And I was amongst the ones who (even though I hated shots) got the original Salk polio vaccine. And was really envious because my younger sis was able to get hers on a sugar cube.

    Staffing medical and related services has been an “issue” in this county and state for decades, so it’s grossly unfair and unrealistic for people to be pointing to COVID-19 requirements/mandates as “the reason” for staffing problems now. If a few people quit SVH rather than be vaccinated/get weekly testing, then so be it. It’s my understanding that the state mandate is basically in keeping with the federal mandate, which, if not observed, could create Medicare/Medicaid funding issues. I suspect that nobody can explain how SVH or any other healthcare provider in this county could remain viable without Medicare/Medicaid funding.

    I really wish that folks would work diligently to try to get us past this global pandemic with a minimum of death/long-term disability. Instead of looking for every possible reason to “not comply.” I have always believed that many hands make light work, and if everybody does their part, we have a chance to save some lives/suffering.

  3. The push to get a shot is stupid if you still transmit the disease. What good does the shot do? You still wear a mask and can still get COVID. I for one do not believe that it will make it milder. Show me the proof.

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