KENT, Wash. - Monday marked the final warning for thousands of Washington state employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine or consider getting a new job.
State workers should have received their final vaccine Monday in order to be ready for the October 18 deadline.
Governor Jay Inslee’s office said some state agencies sent notices to those who have yet to report their vaccination status. A spokesperson from the office said they are "encouraged" by the number of state employees getting vaccinated. Further stating, "We are hopeful that more state employees will choose to get vaccinated and remain in the workforce."
During a virtual briefing, the Washington State Hospital Association said healthcare staff vaccination is very high. However, hospital officials said there is concern about losing some employees due to the mandate, which could lead to a staff shortage.
"We are concerned about the upcoming vaccine requirement and its impacts on other areas of the healthcare system. We are concerned about the impacts on the emergency medical system, which transports patients to hospitals and between facilities," said Taya Briley, with the Washington State Hospital Association.
WSHA officials said hospitals are still very full – with 1,124 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19. Officials said they worry the health care system could see another spike in hospitalizations moving into respiratory and influenza season. The fear is this could cause even more strain on hospitals, especially those that may lose staff due to the vaccine mandate.
Kristy Carrington is the regional chief nursing officer at Swedish Medical Center. She said Swedish is projecting a 99 percent employee vaccination rate. However, she said a potential staff shortage at other locations could have a statewide effect on services.
"Just being prepared for what some of those ripple effects may be for some of the other regions where they aren’t having as good luck with compliance or maybe don’t expect to have as much compliance. But again, there’s very much so that downward affect and that domino effect that we could potentially see from across the state—not just in our acute care hospitals, but in our post-acute care facilities" said Carrington.
There has been push back across the state against the vaccine mandate. For weeks, people have vocalized their opposition—from local unions, to law enforcement members, fire department members and other state workers. Several people attended a rally at the state capitol, Sunday, calling Governor Inslee’s request "unreasonable." Those against the mandate said they would like to see regular testing as a viable alternative.
WSHA will conduct a health care worker survey. This will give a clearer picture of how many healthcare employees are in compliance with the vaccine mandate, and how many employees could lose their jobs. WSHA officials said the state reached an agreement with a staffing agency through the federal government. The agency will provide additional workers to help fill possible staff shortages. Hospital leaders are working with the state to determine when and where the extra workers will go.
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