As more than 100 people gathered outside to protest the state’s vaccination mandate for health care workers, St. Charles announced on Monday about 94% of its 4,533 caregivers met the deadline and are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Another 51 caregivers have started their vaccination series, according to Lisa Goodman, the hospital’s public information officer.
“We are grateful to the overwhelming majority of our caregivers who made the decision to get vaccinated, protecting themselves, their patients and our community,” said Dr. Jeff Absalon, the health system’s chief physician executive. “But we also recognize that our caregivers had a choice and we respect each person no matter what decision they made. We sincerely thank those caregivers for their service, especially throughout the pandemic. This hasn’t been an easy time for any of us.”
In August, Gov. Kate Brown announced a statewide mandate requiring healthcare workers to provide proof of vaccination or ask for a medical or religious exemption by Oct. 18.
Many people believed the mandate would lead to catastrophic layoffs or resignations in health care and school settings – but the data early Monday suggests that’s not the case, at least with schools.
Corey Sattler, an RN at St. Charles and a union rep, said the vaccine was a “no-brainer” and was happy to know most of his fellow caregivers chose to get the vaccine.
“To be honest, I’m a bit baffled as to why a nurse would balk at this vaccine mandate,” he said. “In Oregon, RNs are mandated to have eight other vaccines before they can even attend school to try and become a nurse, let alone work anywhere. This isn’t new, it’s not unique, and it’s just best practice to be vaccinated to keep us safe and to help protect our patients.”
Of the 323 caregivers who applied for exceptions, 49 were reasonably accommodated with remote work and 101 were provided an unpaid leave of absence, Goodman said.
Those who were unable to comply are considered to have voluntarily resigned their positions with St. Charles, and their employment ended after their last scheduled shift.
“All of a sudden now we are unsafe, and we are a threat to our patients which St. Charles has said in an email, and we are a risk and we can’t be inside the hospital at this time,” said Kelly Telfer, a hospital RN.
Goodman said 180 caregivers left the hospital this month; 111 were full-time employees.
“We can’t be certain how many of those 180 caregivers left the organization because of the mandate,” said Vice President of Human Resources Rebecca Berry. “But we believe most of those who left us last week were impacted by this rule.”
Beyond the protest outside the hospital, Kevista Coffee in Bend held its own rally and fundraiser to help those who quit over the vaccine mandate.
Several food carts joined in, offering free food to those who left their jobs.
“These people are deciding to take a stand on principles and not what’s easy,” said Matthew Fidler of We’re the Wurst. “They’re losing money. They’re losing livelihoods. They’re doing what they can to voice their opinions in the way that they can. It’s called tyranny.”
Sattler said the vaccine deadline hasn’t been a distraction to caregivers at the hospital.
“I’m much more concerned with the politicizing of a public health issue that has led so many people down a path to where they aren’t following common sense health and safety recommendations for masking and vaccinating,” he said. “And those people are now causing a serious crisis within the healthcare system where we don’t have the people or space to serve our community for the ‘normal’ issues we see day to day.”
Sattler said that speaks to a larger staffing issue at St. Charles that has been an issue “for years.”
“I’m concerned that the hospital is handing out large contracts to travelers and paying huge sign-on bonuses to new hires, while the people that have been in the trenches for years are being given massage chairs and pizza deliveries as “rewards” for their service during these times,” he said. “Then, at the same time, we are being asked to not take ETO, to work extra shifts, and work on units we are not familiar with providing care we don’t specialize in.”
St. Charles is currently looking to fill 940 positions, Goodman said. About 200 people are in the process of being hired.
She said the hospital last week decided to raise its minimum wage to $18/hour beginning Oct. 31.
Meanwhile, 80 Oregon National Guard troops are still on duty at the hospital helping in a variety of capacities.
Their deployment is expected to end Oct. 31.
More than 100 traveling health care workers are on board at St. Charles through Nov. 22.