By Matt Miller
The deadline arrived last Thursday for California health care workers who were facing a state mandate to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or face consequences.
Local health organizations such as NorthBay Healthcare, Kaiser Permanente and Sutter Health had been preparing employees for more than a month since the mandate came out from Dr. Tomas J. Aragon, the state’s public health officer.
Most were reporting vaccination rates well over 90 percent and the numbers continued to grow up until the deadline. Only those with verified and documented reasons for not getting vaccinated, such as health concerns or prohibited by religious beliefs, were exempt.
Those who don’t follow the vaccine requirement for approved reasons will be be tested twice a week going forward and required to wear a mask, though most hospital employees are already required to wear masks.
“The vaccination mandate by the California Department of Public Health affects only a very small percentage of our staff,” said Steve Huddleston, vice president of public affairs for NorthBay Healthcare. “We informed all those affected (Thursday) that they are in violation of the terms of their employment and they will be removed from the work schedule, without pay, effective immediately.”
Huddleston added, “We have staff to fill the essential positions in patient care and this will not affect our hospital operations nor our outpatient services.”
Of the 2,600-plus employees at the independent health system, compliance with the policy was approaching 95 percent as of the Thursday deadline, Huddleston reported. That includes those fully or partially vaccinated and those who filed approved declinations of medical or religious reasons.
NorthBay Vice President of Human Resources Jim Anderson, added in a press release, “We experienced a noticeable uptick in staff vaccinations following the announcements of the state’s mandate which has continued through this week. And we hope every one of our valued employees will comply and return to work.”
Kaiser Permanente issued a statement through its corporate office that since the vaccine requirement was announced on Aug. 2, employee vaccination rates increased from 78 percent to 90 percent. Physician vaccination rates are also up to 97 percent.
Kaiser also extended the vaccination requirements for the tens of thousands of employees who work for its contractors, vendors and suppliers who enter each facility. They are also encouraging its community organizations to also adopt the mandates.
“We understand that for some, this may be a difficult decision in an already difficult time,” the Kaiser statement reads. “We are doing all we can to support that decision, making progress with information and discussion.
Sutter, which has medical clinics throughout the county, reported that as of the Thursday deadline 92 percent of its employees were vaccinated along with 97 percent of its affiliated providers, representing more than 55,000 health care professionals, in a corporate statement.
In accordance with the mandate, Sutter employees who are not in compliance will not be allowed on site and will be placed on unpaid administrative leave beginning last Friday. Those who remain out of compliance by Oct. 15 are subject to termination.
“Sutter has extensively engaged our workforce on both the importance of vaccination and the many ways they can become compliant with the state and Sutter vaccination policies,” the company said in a statement.