SEATTLE — With the COVID-19 vaccine mandate deadline's arrival Monday, Washington hospitals and their staff are juggling mandate compliance and patient care with an estimated 2-5% of health care staff leaving the industry altogether.
However, while the vaccine mandate is expected to force some hospitals to curtail or even close some services, health leaders say the pandemic’s impact since early last year is far greater than the anticipated blow from the mandate.
During a briefing Monday morning with the Washington State Hospital Association (WSHA), leaders from Seattle Children’s, UW Medicine, Kadlec Health System and Samaritan Healthcare in Moses Lake shared what they’ve been seeing recently in the pandemic as well as their outlook as the vaccine mandate takes effect.
Dr. Andrea Carter, the chief medical officer at Samaritan Healthcare, said her facility was happy to get out of the delta variant surge in September, which she called a “very dark month.” Still, she explained, the hospital’s 12-bed ICU is full on a daily basis with patients being boarded in the Emergency Department.
The mandate, Carter said, has most significantly impacted the hospital’s materials management department, which saw almost its entire staff leave last week. This department is in charge of handling the facility’s supplies.
Dr. Tim Dellitt with UW Medicine said his organization has about a 99% mandate compliance rate, but that he still expects to lose about 220 staff members.
Dellitt said, “We feel very strongly that we have an obligation to create a safe environment for our patients, for our staff.”
Reza Kaleel, the chief executive of Kadlec Health System, said the mandate’s impact remains to be seen, but the impact of the pandemic thus far, whether from staff burnout or COVID-19 infections, has reduced ICU staff by nearly 25% and sent many staff members into retirement or into other industries.
“I think as we focus on what’s going to happen with the vaccine mandate now, I’m less worried about this than what’s happened in the many months preceding and the amount of turnover and vacancies we’re trying to fill,” Kaleel said.
WSHA CEO Cassie Sauer discussed the tension hospitals face between wanting to provide the best care while facing staffing losses because of the vaccine mandate, explaining all health care facilities have two important goals: to keep the state’s health care system functioning and to make sure staff and patients are safe.
“Those goals sometimes work together, and sometimes they’re in conflict,” Sauer said.
Dr. Ruth McDonald with Seattle Children's Hospital expressed optimism about the potential for the COVID-19 vaccine to be approved for children between 5 and 11 years old.
McDonald said during the last surge, Seattle Children's saw an uptick in young children and adolescents being admitted with COVID-19.
According to Sauer, there were 1,025 hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the state, which is down from about 1,101.
While COVID-19 rates across the board continue to decrease, hospitalizations are decreasing at a slower rate and the number of patients on ventilators hasn’t moved with 185 patients last Monday and 184 this week.
Sauer said there were many health care workers who turned in vaccination verification forms over the weekend prior to the mandate deadline, but WSHA will have an updated estimate of the worker vaccination rates by early November.