Colorado mandates vaccines for health care workers at licensed facilities
Colorado health care workers at about 3,800 licensed facilities across the state must be vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of October, the state Board of Health voted in an emergency session Monday evening.
The new vaccine mandate applies to staff and contractors who interact with patients or clients in assisted living homes, nursing homes, hospitals, hospices, community clinics and a variety of other health care settings that are regulated by the board. The mandate does not apply to individual practitioners, doctors’ offices or urgent care centers.
The board implemented the temporary emergency rule on a 6-1 vote after Gov. Jared Polis on Aug. 17 requested that it consider an immediate vaccine mandate.
During a roughly two-hour public meeting Monday attended virtually by at least 1,000 people, about twice as many people spoke against the mandate as spoke in favor of it, with some health care professionals arguing that vaccination was a personal choice that should not be forced on employees under the threat of losing their jobs.
“If my job can compel me to take a drug under duress or lose my job, what else can I be forced to do?” asked Lorissa ArgoRay, a registered nurse. “On behalf of all health care workers, we deserve better.”
Several speakers also suggested that employees would quit rather than take the vaccine, which they said could worsen existing staffing shortfalls in health care facilities. The new rule requires health care facilities to hire only vaccinated workers after Oct. 31.
“There’s concerns that if we have very rigid rulemaking and it is top-heavy, that 10 to 20% of medical staff will not want to comply,” said state Rep. Richard Holtorf, a Republican who represents nine counties in eastern Colorado. “It’s very easy for people in my district to drive into Kansas or work at a facility in Oklahoma or New Mexico. So we have a very large concern about how this rule will be applied and what the impact will be for rural Colorado.”
The vaccine mandate allows for individuals to seek medical or religious exemptions from their employers. Individual health care facilities will set the specific guidelines for what qualifies as an exemption, and facilities will be able to seek waivers from the state to allow for less than 100% of their employees to be vaccinated. Such facilities will be required to present plans for mitigating COVID-19.
The state will not regulate or issue individual exemptions from the vaccine mandate.
Facilities will also be required to submit data to the state on vaccination rates twice a month, beginning Oct. 1. That reporting requirement is one of several components of the emergency rule that could change when the board considers on Oct. 21 whether to make the emergency rule a permanent rule, said Randy Kuykendall, director of the health facilities and EMS division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Public input will again be welcomed during that meeting, he said.
Among those who spoke in favor of the vaccine mandate during Monday’s meeting were the chief medical officers of UCHealth and Children’s Hospital Colorado — both of which have already implemented vaccine mandates for staff or placed additional requirements on those employees who don’t receive it.
Denver Health, SCL Health and Boulder Community Health are among the medical systems that also have some level of vaccine requirement.
“This is the right thing to do for our patients,” said David Brumbaugh, chief medical officer at Children’s Hospital Colorado.
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