AKRON, Ohio (WJW) – Employees and supporters gathered outside Akron Children’s Hospital Monday night to protest the hospital’s COVID-19 vaccination policy. 

“These people have loved their jobs, they have loved children’s hospital,” said Akron attorney Warner Mendenhall. “These people have loved their jobs, they have loved children’s hospital.”

The employees claim their religious and medical exemptions were denied and Mendenhall says roughly 50 nurses have reached out. 

“Children’s, I believe, have granted some exemptions but not all of them and I think employers really should just be very generous with their employees on these exemptions and particularly with medical personnel,” Mendenhall said.

In a statement, the hospital’s Chief Operating Officer Lisa Aurilio said:

“While the Jan. 11 deadline for our COVID-19 vaccination requirement is firm, we are working with those employees who have expressed in good faith their commitment to be fully vaccinated. Those employees for which we have no record of vaccination or exemption were notified on Friday that they will be placed on unpaid leave. This will not happen without a one-on-one meeting between an employee and manager. We value the contribution of each and every employee, but we must uphold our founding promise to provide the best care possible for every child in our service area. A vaccinated workforce is the best way to protect our patients, especially those who are immunocompromised, chronically ill or not yet eligible to be vaccinated.”

New data from the Department of Health and Human Services shows hospitalizations in the U.S. have hit a record high of more than 145,000 people — a number that has doubled from two weeks ago.

The Ohio Hospital Association’s latest data shows the number of hospitalizations is up more than 40% from 21 days ago. 

“Hospitals have been operating at pretty high capacities for several months now,” said Director of Public Affairs John Palmer.

The association says amid lawsuits, some Ohio hospitals have stuck with their mandates, while others have made accommodations, oftentimes putting in added safety measures.

“I think the workforce challenges are definitely a concern. It’s probably the (main) concern we have as an industry,” said Palmer. “We’re trying to balance, you know, safety of patients, safety of the facilities but then safety of our workforce.”