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Vaccine deadline looms for state healthcare workers
The state order mandating healthcare workers to be vaccinated by Sept. 30 was issued on Aug. 5.

Healthcare workers at Emanuel Medical Center and hospitals across the state have until Thursday to get fully vaccinated under a state health order — a mandate that some health officials believe will worsen staff shortages.

With ultimatums taking effect this week in California, as well as New York, Rhode Island and Connecticut — the fear is that some employees will quit or let themselves be fired or suspended rather than get the vaccine.

"How this is going to play out, we don't know. We are concerned about how it will exacerbate an already quite serious staffing problem," said California Hospital Association spokesperson Jan Emerson-Shea, adding that the organization "absolutely" supports the state's vaccination requirement.

The state order mandating healthcare workers to be vaccinated by Sept. 30 was issued on Aug. 5, with the main reasoning behind the order being that “hospitals, skilled nursing facilities and the other health care facility types identified in this order are particularly high-risk settings where COVID-19 outbreaks can have severe consequences for vulnerable populations including hospitalization, severe illness, and death.”

Emanuel Medical Center did not respond to questions about what would happen to employees who did not comply with the mandatory vaccination order by Thursday or if they anticipate staffing shortages at the Turlock hospital.

“Like all hospitals in California, we will comply with the state’s mandate requiring all hospital workers to be fully vaccinated or have an approved exemption,” said Emanuel spokesperson Krista Deans. “Our hospital is able to safely treat those who come to us for care, and we will continue to work with our resources to supplement our core staff as needed. We deeply appreciate the dedication and professionalism shown by our nurses and caregivers as they continue to go above and beyond for both our patients and our community.”

The Biden administration also will require the roughly 17 million workers at health facilities that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid to be fully vaccinated under a rule still being developed.

Many hospitals and nursing homes are already suffering staff shortages because many nurses and others have quit as a result of pandemic-related burnout or have left for lucrative jobs traveling from state to state.

Emerson-Shea said many traveling nurses have declined assignments in California because of the state's vaccine requirement.

In states that don't have mandates, some hospitals are imposing their own.

Ginger Robertson, a registered nurse who works in a mental health clinic at a hospital in Bismarck, North Dakota, has requested a religious exemption from her hospital's vaccination requirement. She said she will look for other work if she doesn't get it.

"Honestly, I really love my job. I am good at it. I enjoy my patients. I enjoy where I am at," she said. "So this is a really hard place, to have to choose between two things I don't want to do. I don't want to leave, and I don't want to get the vaccine."

She said other nurses are also considering leaving over what she called the "insulting" mandate.

"We feel demoralized, like as though we aren't intelligent enough to make these choices for ourselves," Robertson said.

A North Carolina-based hospital system announced Monday that more than 175 of its 35,000-plus employees have been fired for failing to comply with its COVID-19 vaccination requirement.

— The Associated Press contributed to this story.