LEWISTON — A vocal minority of health care workers in Maine say they would rather leave their jobs than get vaccinated against COVID-19, even though medical experts, health care associations and the families who entrust the care of their loved ones to them urge them to get their shots.

Auburn resident Jodi Floyd knows all too well what could happen to a loved one if COVID-19 makes its way into a health care facility. Her husband, Marvin Floyd, died Nov. 28, 2020, at age 81 of complications due to COVID.

“He was a really interesting, cool dude,” Floyd said of her husband of 39 years. “He was the kind of man that if he knew you needed gas, he siphoned it out of his tank to give it to you if you didn’t have gas money. That’s how he was.”

Marvin was one of at least six COVID-related deaths associated with an outbreak at Russell Park Rehabilitation and Living Center in Lewiston. Over the course of the two-month outbreak, 82 residents and 74 staff members contracted the virus, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

“He had no choice,” Floyd said. “It’s not like he was given an opportunity. COVID was walked into a room and given to a bedridden, blind man. He didn’t go anywhere. He didn’t have a choice, it was given to him, and he died.”

The Maine CDC did not respond to a request for the findings of that investigation, but Floyd believes one or a few staff members brought the virus into the facility after attending a Halloween party.


Floyd said she wanted the vaccines to be mandated for health care workers ever since they became available.

“It needs to be accepted as a best practice if you’re in health care,” she said, and operators of health care facilities have the right to update the terms of employment. “I think what has me the most upset right now is I can tell people of the story of my husband and how he died, and they want to start calling me, you know, a wingnut, or (I’m) forcing something on them.”

Whitney King-Buker would disagree. She’s a certified medical assistant at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston and believes that the vaccine mandate is a gross overreach of authority. For starters, she hoped that the decision to implement a mandate would include more of the workers it affects.

Whitney King-Buker is a certified medical assistant and believes the mandate is an infringement to her personal liberty. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

“We’d like to have conversations with higher-ups to try to have more of a ground-level reality check about what is being told, (what) we were told by the governor that we have to do,” she said. “There have been conflicting issues for us, putting our own bodies, kind of being told what to do with our own bodies and our morals.”

She and others have said that this mandate is too aggressive of a timeline for health care workers. But the vaccines have been available for most front-line workers for about nine months now, and CMMC’s leadership has said repeatedly they are working on outreach to have these sorts of conversations with apprehensive staff.

King-Buker declined to offer her vaccination status or her stance on the COVID vaccines itself but said she’s not against vaccines in general.


“I think the decision to vaccinate or not vaccinate is a personal choice,” she said. “And so, I feel that if I succumb to being told to do something, I just feel that it’s not right.”

Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said at a media briefing Tuesday that the thought that a health care provider could accidentally infect a loved one with COVID keeps him up at night.

“With respect to my colleagues in the health care profession, I disagree with them,” he said of those who say the mandate is an infringement of personal choice. “Let’s start with the baseline: Working in a health care facility already subjects and obligates you to do certain things to prevent you from getting your patients sick.”

The Department of Health and Human Services added the COVID vaccine requirement to a rule that was first implemented 20 years ago, requiring vaccinations against diseases such as measles, mumps and chickenpox.

“I recognize that folks frame this as a question of autonomy and choice and that choice still exists,” Shah said. “But it’s not a different choice than the choices we’ve already asked them to take on with respect to other vaccines and (tuberculosis) testing.”

“Ultimately, the choice is theirs,” Shah said. “This is not a mandate; this is a condition of employment.”

There’s a lot at stake here, Shah said, when it comes to health care workers getting their shots. As of Tuesday afternoon, there were 21 open outbreak investigations across the state, nine of which were at health care facilities.

One of those facilities was Odd Fellows and Rebekahs Home of Maine, a nursing home in Auburn.

“The prime directive here,” Shah said, “is to what the Hippocratic oath says, which is to do no harm.”

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