“The Impact” – Governor Jay Inslee’s vaccine mandate set October 18th as the deadline for all state employees, health care workers, school staff, and associated contractors to be fully vaccinated.
On Tuesday, October 11th the Washington State Hospital Association reported an 88% vaccination rate for hospital staff statewide based on a survey covering 94% of state hospitals.
During a weekly meeting in which the results were discussed, WSHA President Cassie Sauer said it’s unclear what the full impact on staffing will be, but estimated that hospitals may lose between two and five percent of their staff statewide.
“Two to five percent is honestly better than what we thought might happen, but we also know that there will be services curtailed across the state,” said Sauer. “Staffing is tight in hospitals, so any loss of staff is a big deal, and there are some places with particularly low vaccination rates that will need to curtail services. There have been considerations of closing down or really limiting outpatient services so there’ll be longer wait times for services. We could see some caps on patient admissions. We had one hospital discuss whether they might need to close their dialysis unit. Some psychiatric units etcetera.”
Figures also released on Tuesday the 11th from the state Office of Financial Management reported that around 90% of state workers have been vaccinated or have an approved exemption.
That rate varied widely from agency to agency and within agency branches. With some smaller agencies like the Puget Sound Partnership reporting a 100% vaccination rate while others such as the Department of Veterans Affairs Spokane reporting a vaccination rate of just under 74%.
The Seattle Police Department transitioned to a Phase 3 Mobilization on Wednesday, Oct. 13th pooling resources between different units and requiring all personnel to be prepared to respond in uniform. The move follows concerns about a potentially large number of unvaccinated officers as the Oct. 18th deadline approaches.
Firefighters and EMT’s are also impacted by the mandate in particular because of their medical role and interaction with hospital staff. The number of unvaccinated firefighters statewide is still unclear, but expected to be much lower than the earlier projections, according to Dennis Lawson, President of the Washington State Council of Firefighters.
“Initially we were told that… probably about thirty percent of our firefighting work force,” said Lawson. “As we get closer to next week we understand that our numbers are going to be significantly less than that thirty percent.“
Hospital backlogs that put emergency rooms on diversion are another issue impacting fire and rescue units in Washington, particularly those in rural areas.
“If we have to go further out, what that means is that we take our medics units, our transport units away from the community which they’ve been asked to be there for,” said Lawson.
The vaccine mandate also applies to private contractors who work with schools, hospitals, or state agencies.
“The initial reaction was one of surprise and frustration,” said Patrick Connor, Washington State Director for the National Federation of Independent Business. “It is a cause of concern for some of our small businesses. Others see it as an opportunity to step in if they’ve got a fully vaccinated work force.”
Connor predicts that canceled contracts will be the most likely consequence for non-compliant contractors.
As for the state enforcement mechanisms…
“We think that generally speaking the penalties for this could be potentially as high as those for other kind of safety and health violations that could range somewhere around seven to ten thousand dollars per incidence, but we really haven’t seen very much from L&I yet, “ said Connor.
Watch the full interviews here.