Valley View Hospital follows on heels of state’s health care worker vaccine mandate with staff requirement
Nurses, supporters rally during state Health Board meeting Monday for freedom of choice around vaccine
Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs has issued a formal policy requiring its staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19, a move underway before the Colorado Health Board’s decision Monday mandating vaccines for health care workers statewide.
“As a health care organization, it is paramount that we do everything we can to provide high quality care to our patients in a safe environment,” Valley View CEO Dr. Brian Murphy said in a statement Tuesday.
“The COVID-19 vaccines offer the most effective way to protect our patients and staff from the virus and variants,” he said. “After careful consideration, we are announcing this policy and taking the next important step to end the pandemic.”
The new policy, which also came in response to the recent full FDA approval for the Pfizer vaccine, will require full vaccination for all hospital staff by Nov. 1, Murphy said.
The state Board of Health, during an emergency meeting late Monday, approved its requirement that all staff of licensed health care facilities under its oversight receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
The move came at the request of Gov. Jared Polis, who asked the board to consider rules requiring health care facilities, such as hospitals, community medical clinics, hospice care providers and nursing homes, to mandate employee vaccines.
The state rule affects about 3,800 facilities across the state. It’s estimated about 30% of the state’s health care workforce remains unvaccinated, according to a news release issued by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on Monday evening.
Murphy said in a follow-up interview Tuesday that about 13.5% of Valley View’s 1,200 employees — roughly 168 workers — remain unvaccinated.
That number changes daily, especially since the new mandate was issued, he said.
Likewise, Grand River Health in Rifle is crafting a policy in response to the state order, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kevin Coleman said.
Coleman said when they started having conversations with staff members two months ago in anticipation of the state order, about 70% of staff were vaccinated. That percentage has now increased to almost 82%, he said.
“I think people at least understand why we’re going to require the vaccine and why the state would require the vaccine for health care workers,” Coleman said.
Decision sparks protests
But the decision hasn’t come without some pushback across Colorado. In Glenwood Springs, about 100 people, including several Valley View Hospital nurses and supporters, gathered outside the hospital and along Grand Avenue Monday evening to protest the vaccine mandate.
Similar protests occurred in Rifle on Friday and in Grand Junction over the weekend.
Nicole Atencio of Gypsum is a nurse at Valley View but is currently on maternity leave.
She said she chose not to be vaccinated while she was pregnant over concerns about potential unknown impacts for pregnant women and nursing mothers.
“I’m not against vaccines,” she said. “But I didn’t feel comfortable getting it while I was pregnant, and now I’m breastfeeding. At this point, I wouldn’t consider it. Down the road I may, but I’m just making the best decision for my family right now.”
Valley View nurses Ashley Mason and Sydney Borem, who were also at the protest, and many of their co-workers who’ve also chosen for different reasons not to get vaccinated, now face the prospect of being fired if they don’t.
“We’re already taking the proper precautions, and we will continue to do so to protect our patients,” Mason said of the required use of personal protective equipment and other protocols within the hospital.
“This is about having the choice about what we put in our bodies,” she said. “It shouldn’t be mandated.”
Added Borem, “As health care professionals, we advise our patients of the risk of vaccines, medications, surgeries, anything, and it’s their choice whether to proceed. As soon as we sit in that chair we are no longer an employee, we’re patients.”
Gina Shaw of Basalt said her daughter is about to quit nursing school because of the new mandate. Shaw said she believes the requirement violates a person’s right to make their own health care decisions.
“A year ago these nurses were heroes working with COVID patients. And now they’re a danger to society?” she asked. “We keep hearing about how the hospitals are overwhelmed, but now we won’t have the staff we need for them.”
Tricia Brady of Rifle also attended the rally in support of nurses and other health care workers. She said she, too, worries about there being a staffing shortage if hospital and nursing home workers are required to be vaccinated against their will.
“I’m here to support the medical professionals,” Brady said. “And I don’t want to see this mandatory vaccine program spreading to other professional fields.”
She added that she believes the vaccine is yet untested in terms of its effectiveness against the delta variant, which is the most common form of the COVID-19 virus now.
“At some point it’s just going to become less effective, and we’ll have to continue to get dose after dose,” Brady said. “That’s my concern.”
The state Health Board ruled 6-1 that nurses and other health care workers who interact with patients will be required to obtain a first dose of the vaccine by Oct. 31.
The state rule does not apply to doctors’ offices or urgent care centers. After Oct. 31, facilities will also no longer be allowed to hire unvaccinated workers.
During a two-hour virtual hearing Monday attended by at least 1,000 people, about twice as many people spoke against the mandate as spoke in favor, The Denver Post reported.
Several people suggested workers would end up quitting rather than be vaccinated, worsening staffing shortages.
Workers, including locally at Valley View and Grand River Health facilities in Rifle, will be able to seek medical or religious exemptions under the state mandate.
“Valley View offers vaccine exemptions for specific medical contraindications and deeply held religious beliefs within parameters allowed by the recent CDPHE order,” the hospital said in its statement.
Murphy said exemption requests would be handled on a case-by-case basis. Unless a worker receives an exemption, refusal to be vaccinated will be considered a resignation.
“We want to keep the employees who are valuable to us,” he said. “That’s why we’re trying to make an internal effort to try to compel all of our incredibly valuable employees to see why, while we respect personal liberties, that fundamentally being in health care it’s on our shoulders to do everything we can to protect the public.”
Grand River’s Coleman offered that, whether it’s from fatigue or not wanting to get vaccinated, he also anticipates losing staff.
“I think they have the option of leaving — I think that’s gonna play out in every hospital in Colorado with state mandates,” Coleman said. “We have to be prepared for that in that respect, that people have the right to say, I’m not going to work under these conditions, and we need to plan accordingly.”
Ultimately, the decision is meant to protect hospital workers and patients, said Dr. David Brooks, chief medical officer for Valley View.
“Science has shown that the vaccines are safe and effectively reduce the risk of becoming infected, spreading the virus to others and becoming severely ill or dying from the disease,” Brooks said. “We will work with staff who are not vaccinated to answer their questions and address their concerns so they can feel confident in receiving the vaccine.”
Added Valley View Chief Nursing Officer Dawn Sculco, “Our team members have seen firsthand the devastating effects of the COVID-19 virus. They have persevered and demonstrated an incredible commitment to caring for our patients and serving our community. By getting vaccinated, our staff will continue to lead the way in turning the tide on this pandemic.”
Grand River Health Registered Nurse and Quality Assurance Analyst Jane Vincent said she also agrees with vaccination mandates.
“The concept would be that when you care for somebody at the bedside who suffers from the process of going through COVID, it has a real impact on your own decision making and feeling of responsibility to do what the scientific recommendation is,” she said.
For any workers receiving an exemption, accommodations will be developed according to an individuals’ specific role, according to Valley View’s statement. That could include enhanced PPE while in any Valley View location, the release stated.
Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or email@example.com.
West Garfield County/Citizen Telegram Reporter Ray K. Erku contributed to this report. He can be reached at 612-423-5273 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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