Governor Kate Brown announced Thursday that all health care workers in Oregon will be required to get fully vaccinated against COVID-19 — without a frequent testing alternative — by Oct. 18, 2021. In a statement released the same day, the Oregon Nurses Association (ONA) raised concerns about the order’s impact on the state’s health care workforce, saying it will “exacerbate an already dangerous staffing crisis in hospitals across the state.”
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The announcement included a requirement for K-12 teachers, educators, support staff, and volunteers to be fully vaccinated. Under the order, the specified groups will need to be vaccinated either by Oct. 18 or six weeks after the vaccines receive full approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), whichever comes later.
ONA’s statement expressed doubt and fear that this measure will lead to a greater staffing crisis.
“Governor Brown’s announcement today of a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for nurses and other front-line health care workers will likely increase vaccination rates among those workers but will also put additional pressure on an already dangerous nurse staffing crisis in Oregon.”
ONA said vaccines are the most important tool for protecting their members, but remain concerned that the mandates will cause needed workers to leave.
“We know Oregon’s registered nurses and nurse practitioners have already achieved a high rate of vaccination. We also know that some health care workers are deeply opposed to vaccine mandates; so deeply that some will leave the profession before accepting a mandate.”
ONA said the previous rule was a better option to retain workforce and called upon hospital and health systems to immediately implement interventions to promote retention.
“Governor Brown’s previous rule that required weekly testing with a waiver for health care workers who show proof of vaccination was a reasonable compromise that encouraged vaccination while protecting public health … ONA calls upon all stakeholders to join us in taking urgent, innovative steps to address this [workforce] crisis now. We call on hospitals and health systems to focus on nurse retention and recruitment, invest in health care workers serving on the frontlines and open up a space at the decision-making table so they can hear from frontline nurses and caregivers. We must work together to protect our communities during this crisis.”
In the statement, ONA President Lynda Pond highlighted the importance of increasing the state’s nursing workforce.
“For decades, hospitals have cut corners and failed to invest in nursing staff. People across the state are now bearing the full burden of these failed policies. This is about more than vaccine mandates: this is about a legacy of false promises and failures on the part of hospitals who put more value on their profitability than they do on protecting patients, providing safe staffing, or ensuring nurse retention.”
Gov. Brown mentioned increased hospital capacity issues as the reason for this new rule and expressed concern that full hospitals will lead to untreated patients.
“We are all at risk right now when our hospitals are full. There may not be a staffed bed for you if you have an unexpected medical emergency. When ambulances have nowhere to go, people die preventable deaths.”
Brown has been active in getting help to aid Oregon health professionals by deploying the Oregon National Guard starting Aug. 20, and asking for help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) with several other Oregon congressional delegates.
Brown said she spoke with FEMA administrator Hon. Deanne Criswell recently and intends to receive a response on the request “in the coming hours”.