Hospital workers getting vaccines

Oct. 18 deadline looms in 2 weeks

More than 300 health care workers at the North Olympic Peninsula’s three public hospitals remained unvaccinated against COVID-19 as of Friday.

Today is the last day for employees at Olympic Medical Center in Port Angeles, Forks Community Hospital and Jefferson Healthcare hospital in Port Townsend to receive a second shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, leaving employees the requisite two weeks to reach full immunization by Oct. 18.

The Oct. 18 deadline was set by Gov. Jay Inslee in August as a condition of employment for healthcare workers, state employees and workers in educational settings.

They can also receive exemptions “because of a disability or if the requirement to do so conflicts with their sincerely held religious beliefs, practice or observance,” in which case they must adhere to safety protocols to continue working, according to Inslee’s mandate.

State agencies, school districts and healthcare facilities that employ exempted workers “must, to the extent permitted by law, require an individual who receives an accommodation to take COVID-19 safety measures that are consistent with the recommendations of the state Department of Health for the setting in which the individual works,” according to the order.

“There may be continued or additional safety requirements for employees who are granted accommodations,” according to the governor’s office.

More than 690 hospital workers were unvaccinated at the three hospitals as of July 26 under policies that made immunization optional.

“Monday is the last day to get vaccinated,” Jennifer Burkhardt, Olympic Medical Center legal counsel-human resources director, said late last week.

“Theoretically, someone could ask for an exemption between [today] and the 18th,” she added.

“The Oct. 4 deadline is important, there’s no question, but it’s not the end-all, be-all.

“An employee could still seek an exemption for the two weeks in between; they could still start the vaccination process.”

OMC, the largest employer in Clallam or Jefferson counties, has 1,650 employees, 15 percent of whom — 247 medical and nonmedical staff — are not vaccinated.

About 91 percent of nurses and 93 percent of doctors at OMC were vaccinated as of July 26, a number that has increased since July 26 but was unavailable Friday, Burkhardt said.

Also unavailable Friday was the number of medical and religious exemptions applied for by employees that will allow them to continue being unvaccinated and work in a healthcare setting.

Jefferson Healthcare hospital has 800 employees, 6.7 percent of whom — 54 employees — are not vaccinated, spokesperson Amy Yaley said Friday in an email.

Among 701 non-medical staff at Jefferson Healthcare, 20 have been granted exemptions, seven have begun the vaccination process and 20 have unknown status, Yaley said.

Among medical staff, four will be exempted. The status of three was unknown as of Friday, Yaley said.

Unless employees provide acceptable proof of being fully vaccinated to the hospital’s employee health office by Oct. 5, they cannot work at Jefferson Healthcare after Oct. 18 without an exemption, she said.

“We are very pleased with our employee vaccination rate and the efforts our employees have made to be compliant with the governor’s vaccination mandate,” Caitlin Harrison, chief human resources officer, said in the email.

“We have made every effort to contact those who we don’t know their vaccination status, including personal phone calls, certified letters and of course emails. Jefferson Healthcare does not want to lose employees as a result of the Proclamation, but will have little choice if employees do not comply.”

Forks Community Hospital CEO Heidi Anderson would not release the number of hospital employees Friday who are vaccinated and who are exempted, saying Friday in an email, “we are at 98 percent compliance with the mandate as of [Friday].”

The hospital has 309 employees. Anderson said the 98 percent compliance total includes employees who have been vaccinated, received their first shots or received an exemption.

She declined to comment on what percentage of medical and non-medical employees have been vaccinated.

“I will not be dividing by staff,” she said in an email.

“As for exemptions, that is protected employee health information and I will not be disclosing that either,” she said.

“Employees not compliant will have to be terminated per [Inslee’s] mandate.”

Burkhardt said OMC administrators will gain a better idea of how many employees are seeking exemptions and how many are vaccinated as Oct. 18 approaches.

“Hopefully, we won’t have any employees departing,” she said Sunday.

Approval of medical exemptions requires documentation from a doctor or advanced care practitioner.

Burkhardt said accommodations for exempted employees could include daily or weekly testing for the coronavirus.

She said the hospital will work with employees who have started the exemption or vaccination process and have not completed it by Oct. 18, allowing them to take paid-time off, for example, and not lose their jobs, but they will be prohibited from working at the hospital after that date, she said.

The mandate applies to workers, on-site volunteers and contractors for state agencies, and to those who work in educational settings, healthcare settings, and who provide personal healthcare services.

Healthcare settings include long-term acute and residential care facilities, physician and dental offices, behavioral health facilities, and massage therapy offices, including where massage is administered.

Educational settings include all public, private and charter schools, and all multiple-household child care programs including at YMCAs and Boys & Girls clubs.

Violators of Inslee’s order may be subject to criminal penalties.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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