EVERETT — Less than two weeks before the state vaccination deadline for medical workers, local hospitals report high levels of compliance.
By Oct. 18, Washington health care workers have to be fully immunized against COVID-19 or get a religious or medical exemption.
The rule comes as hospitals in Snohomish County and elsewhere battle burnout and low morale. In the past year and a half, health care workers have been on the front lines of a pandemic that has killed more than 700 county residents.
The battle against the pandemic has been “exhausting and disheartening for our staff,” Taya Briley, executive vice president of the Washington State Hospital Association, said at a media briefing this week.
And while local COVID numbers have somewhat retreated, the top health official in the county warned this week of a coming winter wave. At Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, hospital leaders reported reopening extra intensive care unit beds because the hospital’s usual ICUs are full.
About 92% of Providence Regional Medical Center Everett’s caregivers are in compliance with the governor’s requirement, spokesperson Casey Calamusa said in an email this week.
“We are seeing that number go up every day,” Calamusa wrote.
To be in compliance means either an employee has been fully vaccinated or has received an exemption.
Darren Redick, Providence Northwest Washington CEO, said in a Friday statement that the hospital is reviewing exemption requests. The hospital system has set up an online portal for staff to submit vaccine verification and file for an exemption.
Redick anticipates 1% to 2% of the Everett hospital’s care givers won’t comply with the mandate, forcing them to lose their jobs and potentially straining an already tightly staffed operation.
“We are hopeful the number of staff who choose not to comply with the Governor’s executive order will not significantly impact our operations,” Redick said. “However, we are putting contingency plans in place to address staffing issues that might arise.”
Providence staff who are not vaccinated have one-on-one conversations with supervisors to go through their concerns and discuss options.
Swedish Health Services reported 98% of its caregivers are in compliance across all campuses, including the one in Edmonds. That number went up after the mandate was implemented, leaving Swedish “optimistic” about staffing levels, said the organization’s chief nursing officer, Kristy Carrington.
Spokesperson Tiffany Moss said the organization isn’t sharing vaccination rates by campus.
At EvergreenHealth Monroe, the figure tops 95% as of Wednesday.
A spokesperson for Skagit Regional Health, operator of Cascade Valley Hospital in Arlington, said it has a team working to verify compliance among over 2,700 employees across all its medical centers. The hospital system is “aware that a limited number of staff” won’t be working after Oct. 18, the spokesperson said.
“We regret the loss of any staff related to compliance with the vaccine mandate,” the Skagit Regional Health spokesperson said. “We hired each member of our team to play an important role in the work that we do and do not want to lose any employees. However, we also respect the decision of our staff to do what they consider to be best for their personal circumstances.”
An Everett Clinic employee is one of about 100 staffers from across the state suing Inslee and state agency heads in federal court over the vaccination mandate. The lawsuit argues the mandate will cause “irreparable harm” with the loss of state and health care workers. It calls the penalties for not getting vaccinated “overly severe, punitive, and unconscionable.”
A spokesperson for the governor’s office, Mike Faulk, said the state is in a “good position” with vaccine compliance among health care workers.
“We are greatly encouraged by the numbers going up significantly every week and we’re confident they will continue to rise,” Faulk said. “Being proactive, (the Washington Department of Health) has worked with the federal government to assess potential needs for the state’s health system as well.”
Jake Goldstein-Street: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @GoldsteinStreet.