Washington loses 2% of healthcare workforce to vaccine mandate

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The state of Washington has lost 2% of its healthcare workforce since mandating that all hospital and nursing home staff receive COVID-19 vaccines, according to the Washington State Hospital Association.

While the state hates to see healthcare staff defecting, the number is lower than many thought it would be, although the numbers are slightly higher in urban areas, said association CEO Cassie Sauer. 

Speaking at a press briefing this week posted by The News Tribune, Sauer said that about 94% of the state’s hospital staff have been fully vaccinated, and the remaining personnel who are staying at their posts are either waiting to be vaccinated or have been granted exemptions.

“The remaining staff has sought and received an exemption and have been accommodated or are in the process of getting a vaccine right now,” she said. “Services are still kind of strained in some communities. The federal vaccine mandate goes into effect January 4. That will make Washington in line with every other state in the country. We were concerned about that, because we didn’t want people who didn’t want to get vaccinated to leave the state to go elsewhere.”

Though the percentage of those who have quit their jobs is lower than anticipated, hospitals are still concerned about their staffing levels and are instituting a number of initiatives meant to retain staff. Many are offering incentive bonuses and retention bonuses, posting as many jobs as they can and working with staffing agencies to bolster recruitment.

Sauer said the association is in talks with the state legislature and the governor’s office about significant investments in the state’s workforce, particularly in the healthcare sector, and one outcome of those talks could be an expansion of training slots available to state healthcare facilities — what Sauer called a “silver lining” of the pandemic.

In contrast to COVID-19 surges in some parts of the country, such as the Northeast and Midwest, Washington has seen a decline. The state saw 865 coronavirus-related hospitalizations this week, down from 968 at the same time the week prior, and there’s been a 29% decline in the number of people who are on ventilators, although Sauer pointed out that deaths account for a portion of that decline.

WHAT’S THE IMPACT

Washington’s vaccine mandate foreshadows the federal mandate set to take effect in January; Healthcare workers at Medicare and Medicaid participating hospitals and who work in other settings, are being required to get the shot. The action is meant to protect patients of the 50,000 providers and over 17 million healthcare workers in Medicare and Medicaid certified facilities.

Also, in September, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said emergency regulations requiring vaccinations for nursing home workers would be expanded to include hospitals, dialysis facilities, ambulatory surgical settings, and home health agencies, among others, as a condition for participating in the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

Vaccine mandates are increasing, and as of today are required as a condition for returning to work for the employees of 14 healthcare organizations in and around Washington.

THE LARGER TREND

Not everyone is thrilled with vaccine mandates. Earlier this month, the states of Missouri, Montana, Arizona and Nebraska co-led an 11-state coalition in filing a lawsuit against President Joe Biden and his administration to halt the COVID-19 vaccine mandate on private employers with more than 100 employees. They’re the first states to file suit against the vaccine mandate on private employers.

Five private employers also joined the challenge. A petition for judicial review was filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, and a motion for stay is expected to be filed soon.

In October, researchers publishing in Scientific Reports found that mandates likely work to increase vaccine uptake, and appear to be having a positive effect across various ethnic groups, and for people predisposed to oppose measures that are forced on them.

A report that same month from the U.S Department of Health and Human Services found that COVID-19 vaccinations may have helped prevent hundreds of thousands of new COVID-19 infections and tens of thousands of deaths among seniors

The findings are being used to underscore the importance of vaccines in fighting against the still-ongoing pandemic, and to combat lingering vaccine hesitancy among certain populations.

Last week, the American Medical Association contended that higher vaccination rates among workers will make workplaces safer, an effect that would be felt across industries – including in healthcare, which poses a heightened risk, since frontline care workers are often in close contact with people who have contracted the virus.

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