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Hundreds Facing Termination As Health Care Worker Vaccination Mandate Nears

A COVID-19 vaccination site in the South Bay at the Imperial Beach Civic Center, Jan. 15, 2021.
Matt Hoffman / KPBS
A new COVID-19 vaccination site is up and running in the South Bay at the Imperial Beach Civic Center.

The vast majority of San Diego County health care workers are complying with the state's vaccination mandate, those who remain unvaccinated or do not have an approved exemption after Thursday are facing termination.

"The numbers are pretty small for us," said Scripps Health CEO Chris Van Gorder.

Hundreds Facing Termination As Health Care Worker Vaccination Mandate Nears
Listen to this story by Matt Hoffman.

Van Gorder said with the state mandate looming there has recently been an increase in employee vaccinations, and a day before the requirement hits just about 140 workers — or less than one percent of the workforce — are not vaccinated or have approved religious/medical exemptions.

"I don’t want to lose any employees," he said. "You’ll hear from every health care organization we have a lot of staffing challenges right now."

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Per Scripps’ policy, if those 140 employees are not vaccinated by end of day Thursday they will lose their jobs.

"We’re terminating because that’s what the rules say but if our employees get compliant within a month they will be rehired, full status resumed," Van Gorder said.

Van Gorder added he was expecting to see a minimal impact to day-to-day operations.

While Scripps has less than one percent of employees facing possible termination, other systems have more. A spokesperson for Sharp HealthCare said they have three percent of the workforce or 539 employees unvaccinated and without exemptions. The spokesperson added just under 92% of Sharp's 18,246 employees are fully vaccinated, with 3.8% (691) people having approved exemptions and 1.6% (292) employees being partially vaccinated.

At Sharp and other systems including Palomar Health and Kaiser, non-compliant employees will be placed on unpaid leave before facing termination.

A spokesperson from UC San Diego Health said numbers are still coming in, but as of mid-day Wednesday their vaccination rate was 98%.

At Palomar Health, a spokesperson said they are not foreseeing a negative impact to operations in any way. The system is reporting 90% of staff are vaccinated or have an approved exemption.

Local Kaiser Permanente officials did not have numbers for San Diego County employees, but company-wide are reporting about 97% of employees are vaccinated or have asked for an exemption.

It is a different story at Rady Children's Hospital. A spokesperson said unvaccinated staff will not be involved in care where there is patient contact.

"For employees who have requested a medical or religious exemption and who are in a patient contact role, they are being offered options that range from a position that does not involve patient contact for which they are qualified or requesting a short term leave of absence," an emailed statement said.

The Rady's statement said officials are continuing to work with affected staff to discuss available options.

Local Healthcare Workers Face Consequences As Vaccine Mandate Looms

The California Hospital Association sent a memo to health care executives earlier in the week suggesting hospitals that will be gravely impacted by implementing the staff vaccination mandate may be able to delay the process by 45 days.

A spokesperson for the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) would not confirm that Wednesday and provided a statement from the state's public health officer.

"This is a critically important mandate that helps ensure the safety of all individuals in our health care system," said State Public Health Officer and CDPH Director Dr. Tomás J. Aragón. "We will continue to do what we can to make sure individuals get vaccinated, but this is a deadline we are watching closely and expect full compliance. We cannot underscore enough that vaccinating health care workers is a key component of providing health care."

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