Yakima & Tri-Cities hospitals adapt as the vaccine deadline approaches

Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital
Credit: Emily Goodell, KAPP-KVEW

KENNEWICK, Wash. — Hospital workers in the Tri-Cities and Yakima who have shown proof of vaccination are being put in sticky situations as a result of the Governor’s Oct. 18 deadline for WA healthcare workers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Any healthcare worker who has yet to initiate vaccination is likely to miss the deadline and subsequently lose their jobs. With staffing levels already in a suboptimal position, hospitals throughout Southeastern Washington are preparing to fill the gaps in their service.

Dr. Marty Brueggemann, Chief Medical Officer of Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital, gave a candid comment on the state of his profession during these pandemic times.

RELATED: Yakima hospital system still ‘fragile’ despite decrease in COVID-19 patients

“After 20 months of this, people are just  — they’re done. People are retiring early, they’re leaving the profession, they’re just trying to get out of this,” Dr. Brueggemann said. “And so we’ve been dealing with these staffing shortages.”

According to the Washington State Hospital Association, about 88% of the state’s medical workers have shown proof of COVID-19 vaccination to date. Their expectation is that somewhere between 2 to 5% of Washington’s medical workers will quit their jobs come October 19.

At Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital, the number of staff members lost to the vaccine mandate is less of a concern than the toll of the pandemic as a whole.

“We probably will lose a few people — but it probably is going to pale in comparison to what we’ve lost already,” Bruggeman said. “So I can tell you in the case of Yakima Valley Memorial, we’ve redeployed large numbers of staff and basically consolidated a lot of services from that – we’ve brought nurses and other professionals from the ambulatory to the bedside, and a lot of times, it wasn’t by choice—we just said ‘look, we HAVE to do this right now to manage our patients.”

RELATED: Washington healthcare facilities brace for shortages as vaccination deadline looms

Meanwhile, some health leaders at Kadlec Regional Medical Center are sifting through medical and religious exemption requests while others craft plans in case a considerable portion of their workforce falls through next week. They released the following statement to KAPP KVEW:

We are in the process of receiving and reviewing caregiver vaccination records and reviewing submitted medical and religious exemption requests.  We are focused on encouraging all Kadlec caregivers to comply with the upcoming Oct. 18 deadline by either getting vaccinated or submitting a medical or religious exemption request.  Additional caregivers come into compliance on a daily basis.  We are hopeful the number of staff who choose not to comply with the governor’s executive order will not significantly impact our operations and are working on contingency plans to address staffing issues that might arise.

Hospital staff in Yakima and the Tri-Cities barely had a chance to catch their breath after COVID-19 hospitalization rates spiked through the end of the Summer into early Fall.

In recent weeks, there were stretches when upwards of 30% of Benton and Franklin Counties’ hospital beds were occupied by COVID-19 patients. As of Tuesday’s update from the Benton-Franklin Health District, 59 COVID patients comprise 14.8% of hospital occupants in the area.

Now, the focus is on making sure that there are enough trained healthcare workers ready and available to help those left in Southeastern Washington hospitals during the fourth quarter of 2021.

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