Health officials weigh in as health care worker vaccine mandate enforcement begins

As of Friday, the vaccine mandate for health care workers put forth by the Mills Administration...
As of Friday, the vaccine mandate for health care workers put forth by the Mills Administration will begin to be enforced.(WRDW)
Published: Oct. 29, 2021 at 3:00 PM EDT
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BANGOR, Maine (WABI) - As of Friday, the vaccine mandate for health care workers put forth by the Mills Administration will begin to be enforced.

TV5 spoke with several health officials about the impact it’s had, what’s going on in Maine right now, and what they think the road ahead looks like.

“I think it’s important for us to recognize there isn’t calamity right now,” said Maine Emergency Medical Services Director, Sam Hurley. “The EMS system hasn’t collapsed. You can still call 911, and there still is going to be someone who comes.”

They figure to lose around three percent of their staff to the mandate.

“As of last week, was 151 individuals,” said Hurley.

“While the final numbers aren’t in yet, it appears that somewhere between 1 1/2 to 2% of our workforce may leave,” said MaineHealth CEO Andy Mueller, who figures that to be 350-400 people. The loss of these people comes as organizations work to hire people.

“There is a morning consult survey that shows that roughly one in five health care workers have left the industry in the past year, again, just staggering statistics,” he said. “And it sort of highlights some of this. We’re seeing vacancy rates at about 10%. But to be sure, a vacancy rate of about 10% is really, really difficult for us as a healthcare system.”

Northern Light Health’s Paul Bolin says they are in a similar spot.

“Really, in large part, I think the overall workforce shortage that we’re seeing in our state, in our country, has more to do with that than the vaccine mandate itself, but certainly that plays a part, it’s but it’s not the full picture,” he said.

National Nurses United, which represent nurses in Maine, say vaccination is a part of an overall safety plan that needs to be in place and hospitals are falling short.

In a statement they said in part:

NNU is calling for proven and effective public and workplace infection control measures that the entire country must be taking now, including protecting nurses and health care workers with optimal, single-use PPE, providing safe staffing levels, robust and routine testing, proper isolation, contact tracing and notification, proper quarantining, ventilation, universal masking, social distancing, and diligent hygiene. Without providing all the important measures of infection control and other workplace protections, health care employers are driving nurses away from direct patient care—while blaming a so-called “nursing shortage” that is actually created by the hospital industry.

State officials have outlined a plan for recruitment and retention.

For those that remain on the job, the hope is the mandate will keep them there.

“We anticipate that the workforce problems that they’re facing will be lessened by more workers being vaccinated because they’ve had so many workers who’ve had to go out for isolation or quarantine during this pandemic,” said DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew.

“What we have found very clearly is that when we vaccinate our workforce, and we saw that beginning to occur back in December of last year, we saw a significant decline in the numbers of our care team that were out of work for COVID related causes,” said Mueller. “And so, it’s very clear to us that the vaccine mandate really helps protect and preserve our workforce.”

“It is a stress,” said Hurley. “We’re not denying that, but I don’t believe there are, I don’t believe it’s the calamity that was necessarily predicted.”

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