Bakersfield hospitals prepare for vaccine mandate deadline

Coronavirus

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Hospitals already facing another COVID surge and crowded ICUs may find themselves with another challenge this weekend.

Starting Friday, healthcare workers must have at least one dose of a COVID vaccine or an authorized vaccine exemption, according to an August order by the California Department of Public Health. If they don’t, they can’t show up to work.

“Any loss of any of our caregivers is a very significant concern,” Memorial Hospital president and CEO Ken Keller said. “In this case, it’s qualified or amplified as a result of the vaccination question.”

Across Dignity Health’s Memorial and Mercy hospitals, just over 80 percent of workers have at least one dose of the vaccine. 10 percent of Mercy Hospital’s workers have been approved for an exemption, and the rest are unaccounted for or have pending exemption requests. At Adventist Health, those numbers are a bit higher.

“We’re sitting in a really good position,” Adventist Health Kern County president David Wolcott said. “We’re down to less than ten people across our health system that we have an unknown status for.”

Healthcare workers are required by the order to be fully vaccinated. Workers with a vaccine exemption or an incomplete vaccine dose will need to test twice weekly and wear a mask.

Consequences are steep. If a worker is unvaccinated without an exemption, they will be placed on administrative leave until January, or until they get vaccinated or secure an exemption.

“If none of those things become true, those folks could be terminated in January,” Mercy Hospital president and CEO Bruce Peters said.

Keller said Dignity Health plans to address possible staffing shortages by bringing in traveling healthcare workers and extending shifts for those willing.

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