Health care worker vaccine mandates create workforce uncertainty

COVID-19 Vaccine

DENVER (KDVR) — More health care workers in Colorado are risking their jobs as hospital systems move forward with vaccine mandates.

Kaiser Permanente announced Tuesday that 2,200 employees nationwide are on unpaid leave. Those employees have until Dec. 1 to verify their vaccination status to return to work. In Colorado, Kaiser said more than 98% of its employees are fully vaccinated or exempt from its mandate.

Denver Health employees have until Nov. 1 to verify their vaccine status.

Meanwhile, UCHealth has fired 119 employees — less than 0.5% of its staff statewide. UCHealth claims the move improves staffing by ensuring healthier employees who won’t call in sick. But does that benefit outweigh more stress placed on an already stressed health care workforce?

“I think the biggest issue is burnout,” University of Denver workforce expert Jack Buffington said. “Healthcare workers are just having to work so hard through this burnout. And you’re seeing a lot of people leaving the [job] market. This is just a difficult time for this to happen.”

Buffington said– with historic levels of healthcare vacancy rates– any additional decrease will only add to the responsibilities of overworked nurses and doctors. There are also administrative woes.

“The best way to manage your care is to retain your employees,” Buffington said. “Even if you can hire a new person, there’s costs associated with training. There’s bringing people up to speed. It’s understanding how the culture and the hospital runs … There’s got to be a fallout to what’s happening here.”

Nearly 91% of Denver Health employees, contractors and students have verified they are fully vaccinated, according to the hospital. Denver Health said that number should be 94% by its Nov. 1 deadline. Buffington said he understands why these mandates are happening but they’re still creating challenging situations.

“Making the right bet and choosing the right solution will still lead to some fallout,” he said. “It’s such a tipping point that you’re going to lose one way or the other. The workforce is so fragile.”

The state health department has rulemaking authority. It expects roughly 3,800 state licensed health care facilities to mandate vaccines for its employees. The statewide deadline for staffers at these locations to receive their second dose is Halloween.

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