Kaiser Permanente to mandate vaccination of staff

Kaiser Permanente will require all employees and physicians to get the COVID-19 vaccine by Sept. 30, and on Aug. 23 will begin twice-weekly COVID-19 testing for anyone still unvaccinated.

To date, 78% of Kaiser’s employees and 95% of its physicians in Northern California are vaccinated, Michelle J. Gaskill-Hames, senior vice president, hospital and health plan operations, Kaiser Permanente, Northern California, said during a press conference on Monday.

“And so for those that are remaining, that 22% of employees and physicians, we're hoping that this mandate will provide the encouragement and support to get to a fully vaccinated workforce to keep everyone safe,” said Gaskill-Hames, who also is a registered nurse.

When asked, Gaskill-Hames did not specifically say that anyone refusing to be vaccinated would be terminated.

Rather, she stated Kaiser will be working with its labor unions in terms of next steps. Exceptions will be made for medical and religious reasons on a case-by-case basis, she said.

Kaiser becomes the second health care system in the North Bay to take a firm stance on vaccination mandates.

MarinHealth on July 27 told the Business Journal it will require all employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, with no allowance to instead choose regular testing for COVID-19, as Gov. Gavin Newsom suggested in a July 26 announcement.

“Our policy will mirror that which was announced, except there will be no option to remain unvaccinated other than religious or medical exemption, or a deferral if pregnant,” stated Dr. Karin Shavelson, MarinHealth’s chief medical officer. Proof of vaccination also will be required.

MarinHealth’s policy mirrors that of its affiliate, UCSF Health, whose policy already has taken effect through the University of California system.

Providence St. Joseph Health Northern California, Sutter Health and NorthBay Healthcare confirmed with the Business Journal on Aug. 2 they are continuing with plans to follow state policy announced last week that requires all health care and state workers to either show proof of vaccination or get regularly tested. Adventist Health St. Helena stated on July 27 it also would follow state policy; the hospital could not be reached for updated comment. The new policy for health care workers must be implemented by Aug. 9, and health care facilities must be in full compliance by Aug. 23.

Gaskill-Hames during the press call said she anticipates there will be questions from employees, but that she also expects to have support.

“Our health care workers are tired, they are disappointed that we've got a fourth surge,” she said. “And when we look at it, we believe that this was mostly preventable with vaccinations.”

In a statement ahead of the press conference, Greg A. Adams, chair and CEO, Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and Health Plan, Inc., said “large groups of unvaccinated people are fueling the current increase in cases and 97% to 99% of COVID-19 hospital admissions are unvaccinated patients.”

Making vaccination mandatory is the most effective way Kaiser can protect its workers, patients and communities served, he said.

“We encourage all health systems and business and industry leaders across the country to play a role in ending the pandemic by doing the same,” Adams said.

Kaiser’s employees will be given paid administrative time to get vaccinated at its on-site clinics or at other locations. The Kaiser Permanente organization states it includes more than 216,000 employees and more than 23,000 Permanente Medical Group physicians.

This story has been updated to include comment from additional North Bay area health care systems.

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