Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital (HHMH) is working under a tight timeline to satisfy a California Public Health Department order requiring that all staff be vaccinated for COVID-19. Thirty percent of the staff remain unvaccinated as of Aug. 26, said Jordan Wright, vice president and chief operating officer. About 184 of Hazel Hawkins general staff members have not been vaccinated, and some of those employees have objected to being tested for COVID-19. According to Wright, those who are unwilling to be vaccinated may be put on leave or terminated.
The hospital does not track who is not vaccinated by job title, said Frankie Gallagher, director of marketing and community relations, so it is unknown how many of those working at the hospital who deal directly with the public remain unvaccinated.
Wright reported to the HHMH Board of Directors on Aug. 26 that until the Sept. 30 deadline, unvaccinated employees will be required to be tested twice a week, with 48 hours between tests. He said Dr. Michael Bogey, medical director and chief medical officer and CEO Stephen Hannah signed the new vaccination policy on Aug. 26, and it will be released Sept. 1.
According to a survey conducted by the American Nurses Foundation 70% of nurses nationwide have received the vaccine, meaning a comparable 30% have not.
“Overall, a quarter of nurses surveyed reported they are undecided about receiving the vaccine,” the industry-wide survey found. “Respondents’ reasons for not choosing vaccination included being fearful of short- or long-term side effects and not having enough information about the vaccines.”
The California Nurses Association, which represents nurses who work at Hazel Hawkins, did not respond to BenitoLink’s request for comment before publication.
According to Hannah, there are only two types of exemptions to the hospital’s policy: religious and medical that will be accepted. The policy states that anyone asking for a medical exemption must be signed off by a licensed physician or other medical practitioner. According to the Centers for Disease Control, medical exemptions could be granted to people with cancer, chronic kidney or lung disease, diabetes, dementia, heart conditions or HIV infection. Wright didn’t say how a person’s religious views against vaccinations could be proven.
Gallagher told BenitoLink on Aug. 31, “We have 690 employees, not counting the medical staff. To date, 481 are totally vaccinated, 25 have received their first shot and are waiting for their second shot, and 184 have not received any vaccination. Our employee health nurse is continuing to receive documentation daily from employees that have had their vaccinations at other facilities. Again, employees have until September 30 to comply with the state’s mandate.”
“As far as our medical staff goes,” she continued, “we are still in the process of gathering their documentation because many of them work at numerous other facilities and they aren’t here on a regular basis,” she said, adding there are also 84 volunteers who work at the hospital and a thrift shop downtown, all of whom have been vaccinated.
“Everyone needs to be fully vaccinated by Sept. 30,” Wright, the hospital C.O.O. said. “We’ve had six people go through the process of declination before the policy was even out.”
He said some employees are pushing the boundaries to see what might happen by refusing to be vaccinated or refusing to be tested for COVID-19.
“The answer is they’ll be on some sort of administrative leave without pay or potentially terminated,” he said, adding that the consequence of not complying is not spelled out in the policy. “Hopefully, there will not be too much drama and we’re going to approach it with dignity and respect and keep people’s privacy in this process.”
Wright said since the Sept. 30 state-mandated deadline for vaccinations for all health care workers was announced there has been a slight uptick in the number of staff getting vaccinated. He said, however, the policy does not apply to medical staff who are subject to the hospital’s bylaws.
“At the next board meeting we’ll be looking at bylaw changes on how we handle this for medical staff because they’re under the health care personnel definition, so that will be reviewed,” Wright said.
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