Vancouver-based medical provider PeaceHealth has reversed its policy and will require its caregivers to receive a COVID-19 immunization.
The reversal comes several weeks after an outbreak in a patient ward at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center sickened 20 patients and nine employees. The outbreak began with a patient testing positive for COVID-19 on July 11, a day after being admitted to the hospital for a different reason.
In a statement issued Tuesday, Dr. Doug Koekkoek, PeaceHealth’s chief physician executive, said that beginning Aug. 31, all caregivers will be required to provide proof of vaccination or submit a qualified medical exemption. Those who do not do so will be subject to regular COVID-19 testing, additional masking and safety protocols, and potential reassignment to non-patient care duties.
The rule applies to doctors, nurses, other patient care providers, students, contractors, vendors and volunteers.
About 80 percent of PeaceHealth caregivers are already vaccinated, according to a news release.
Last month’s outbreak occurred in a second-floor wing of the Mother Joseph unit at the Vancouver hospital. At the time, PeaceHealth defended its practice of not requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for employees. Chief Medical Officer Dr. Lawrence Neville said at the time that there is a “diversity of health care workers with different options and different sources of information for vaccine safety.”
On Tuesday, Koekkoek said “The rise in hospitalizations in our communities is a stark reminder that we are facing a public health emergency and we must do more.
“We believe all health care workers who are medically able should get a COVID-19 vaccine to keep themselves, our patients, and our communities safe. Doing so is part of our mission to promote personal and community health and our vision to make sure that every person receives safe, compassionate care.”
On Monday, Kaiser Permanente said it would make vaccines mandatory for all of its employees and physicians by Sept. 30. The HMO operates at least five medical offices in Clark County.