By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports
Idaho’s two largest hospital systems have paused a requirement that employees be vaccinated against COVID-19.
“While we remain committed to our vaccine requirement policy, we are pausing the requirement for our Idaho colleagues only while crisis standards of care are activated,” said Mark Snider, communications director for Saint Alphonsus. The pause affects only Idaho-based Saint Alphonsus employees. Those in Oregon will still need to get vaccinated.
“Considering the activation of Crisis Standards of Care in Idaho this week, St. Luke’s has temporarily extended the compliance deadline for COVID-19 vaccination,” said Taylor Reeves, public relations coordinator for St. Luke’s Health System, in a statement to Idaho Reports. “The compliance deadline extension will be in place only until crisis standards of care are no longer activated and/or our internal HICS activation level is reduced. At that time, we will resume the corrective action process for team members who remain non-compliant.”
Snider said of Saint Al’s roughly 6,000 employees, only a small number — .004 percent, he said, or approximately 25 — have quit and cited the vaccination requirement as a reason for leaving. Snider didn’t know how many have asked for religious or medical exemptions, but said no employee has been fired for not being vaccinated.
Reeves said 98 percent of St. Luke’s staff have chosen to get vaccinated, up from 94 percent when the hospital first announced the requirement. Those who are currently unvaccinated must get tested twice a week.
Victoria Stump, spokesperson for Take A Stand Now, which opposes employer mandates for healthcare workers, applauded the move.
“While we support the temporary halt to mandatory COVID 19 vaccines for all medical staff at St. Al’s and St. Luke’s we believe they should remove the mandate permanently,” Stump said in a Friday press release.
“The Governor has had to call in the national guard to provide additional medical personnel and now the Idaho Medical Reserve Corp is asking anyone, even those with zero medical experience, to volunteer at our hospitals and clinics,” Stump said. “Adding the traveling nurses without the requirement of vaccines adds insult to injury when it comes to mandates in Idaho.”
Hospitals statewide are facing critical staffing shortages, and almost none had implemented vaccine requirements. Multiple other factors feed into those shortages, including cost of living and burnout.
Idaho declared crisis standards of care statewide after St. Luke’s requested the designation on Sept. 15. The crisis standards of care designation allows hospitals to operate with higher nurse-to-patient ratios and helps providers prioritize which patients receive limited resources, depending on how ill they are, and their chances of survival. It also means that some patients are being treated in makeshift patient care centers set up in classrooms or conference rooms.
Crisis standards have been in place for north Idaho since Sept. 6. Nearly all patients in Idaho’s ICUs are unvaccinated.
Idaho Reports is airing a third special on crisis standards of care at 8 pm Sept. 24 on Idaho Public Television.