Idaho hospitals see high compliance with vaccine requirement but still worry about losing staff

COVID-19 coronavirus hospital
Posted at 12:07 PM, Sep 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-06 08:40:15-04

IDAHO — The state saw over 1,600 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, and officials say hospitals are hitting their capacity limits.

St. Luke's and Saint Alphonsus are requiring their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, but will this mandate hurt their already exhausted staff on the frontline?

All St. Luke’s employees were required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by September 1. St. Luke’s Chief Medical Officer for Boise, McCall, and Elmore, Dr. Frank Johnson, says out of almost 17,000 employees at St. Luke’s, there has been around a 92% compliance rate and that number is still increasing.

Officials are still worried about the nearly 8% percent or so who will be forced to leave if they forego the shot.

“If it stays at that number, and we do lose 1,000 employees, that would be a real concern,” Johnson said. “Our teams have got some processes in place to make sure that we can continue to provide great care for patients.”

Saint Alphonsus is also requiring all employees to be vaccinated by September 21 and say, so far, the compliance rate has been high.

“We’re seeing our colleagues step up to the plate and get their vaccinations. We do have medical and religious exemptions,” Saint Alphonsus Chief Medical Officer Dr. Steven Nemerson said. “Because of vaccinations, we’ve had a 70% reduction in the number of colleagues that we would have expected to be put under quarantine or leave because of COVID and it's almost certainly directly connected to vaccinations.”

While both health systems risk losing employees and putting even more on the shoulders of healthcare workers who are already stretched thin, they say it's a risk they are willing to take to protect their employees and the community.

“We are taking every step that we can to try and minimize that risk, but it's a consequence that we will accept because the alternative is really not acceptable,” Johnson said.

Health officials keep reminding the public the state is on the brink of activating Crisis Standards of Care. Earlier this week, Gov. Brad Little announced he was reactivating the Idaho National Guard to assist hospital staff.