On Aug. 3, PeaceHealth incorporated a new rule that said employees had to either be vaccinated against COVID-19 or have a valid exemption filed with the health care network before Sept. 1. Anyone who didn’t comply was sent home on unpaid leave —basically about 800 throughout the company lost their jobs.
It didn’t end there.
Like most hospital systems, there are unions involved. Nurses, respiratory therapists, custodians — in all there have been at least seven complaints filed from labor unions, with the main issue being that PeaceHealth made this rule change without consulting their workers.
An attorney representing Washington State nurses said to OPB that when she asked PeaceHealth what they were planning to do when they lost caregivers, “there was no answer.” PeaceHealth simply reaffirmed the date of Sept. 1 as when workers had to comply with the new rule and then stopped replying.
Ruth Schubert of the Washington State Nurses Association (WSNA) told OPB, “It’s the health system’s responsibility to negotiate with their unions, and it is our right to negotiate over these events.”
Another thing at issue is that the deadline for vaccines as set by the government is Oct. 18, and that many at PeaceHealth feel that enacting this new rule during a surge in COVID cases is placing an unreasonable strain on local hospitals. Yet a spokesperson from the healthcare system replied that the decision to push that deadline up meant more vaccines in arms — raising the percentage of vaccinated workers from 80% to 92%.
The PeaceHealth network includes nine hospitals in the Pacific Northwest, employing approximately 16,000 people. Officials have said that 3% of their staff have secured exemptions. Add that to the 92% vaccinated, and that leaves 5% of their workforce currently on leave without pay. Oregon National Guard members have been on hand to assist hospital staff.
Following in PeaceHealth’s footsteps, both the Legacy system and Kaiser Permanente have set their deadlines at an earlier date from the one set by the state governors. Both healthcare networks are requiring their workers to be vaccinated by the end of September — 18 days before the state mandate.
Ian Rollins of Samaritan Health Says that they will comply with Brown’s mandated date of Oct. 18.