North Bay health leaders on board with new vaccination requirements

MarinHealth is going straight to requiring all employees get a COVID-19 vaccination, bypassing any allowance to instead choose regular testing for COVID-19, as Gov. Gavin Newsom suggested in a Monday 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,” Dr. Karin Shavelson, MarinHealth’s chief medical officer, said in a statement. “Operational planning has been ongoing and our formal policy will be announced internally later this week.”

Shavelson also stated proof of vaccination 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.

Newsom said that beginning next month, all of the state’s employees and health care workers will be required to show proof of vaccination or regularly get tested. He also encouraged the same steps be taken among all local governments and businesses.

Newsom said that even though California leads the nation in vaccinations — with 75% of those eligible having received at least one dose — the state “is seeing increasing numbers of people who refused to get the vaccine being admitted to the ICU and dying.” The increase in COVID-19 illnesses is mostly due to a highly contagious and deadly variant that can make fully vaccinated people sick, but not to the level of requiring hospitalization.

“We are now dealing with a pandemic of the unvaccinated, and it’s going to take renewed efforts to protect Californians from the dangerous Delta variant,” Newsom said in the announcement.

The new policy for state workers will take effect Aug. 2, and testing will be phased in over the next few weeks, Newsom said. For health care workers and congregate facilities, the policy will be implemented on Aug. 9. Health care facilities have a bit more time to be in full compliance, until Aug. 23.

So far, MarinHealth has come out with the strongest statement among hospitals in the North Bay area.

Providence St. Joseph Health’s hospitals in Northern California, which include Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital and Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa, stated the health care system is beginning to make plans based on the coming mandate.

“In the coming days, we will be assessing the testing component of the state’s new requirement and determining our plans to be compliant by the specified date of Aug. 23,” according to the statement.

Adventist Health St. Helena is awaiting further information from the California Department of Public Health, which the hospital will use as guidance moving forward, said spokesman Tony Albright.

Kaiser Permanente in a statement stressed its support for the state’s effort.

“We have been working for 16 months to do all we can to save lives, care for COVID-19 patients and prevent others from contracting the deadly virus. With hundreds of millions of doses administered worldwide, the COVID-19 vaccines have demonstrated an historic level of safety and effectiveness,” according to the statement. “To ensure we have all necessary information to maintain a safe workplace, we are moving to require all Kaiser Permanente employees to verify their vaccination status.” The health care system also is preparing to be fully compliant with the requirement.

“We need to bring this pandemic under control,” B. Konard Jones, president and CEO at NorthBay Healthcare, told the Business Journal in an email statement. “For the health and safety of our patients and our staff, NorthBay supports the new orders from the governor and (CDPH).”

Jones said NorthBay is tracking the governor's orders and looking for guidance from CDPH as it creates an implementation plan.

“We'll continue to urge our workforce to receive the vaccine and we'll be prepared to have diligent testing,” Jones said.

The California Hospital Association released a media statement on Monday stating it is in lockstep with Newsom’s forthcoming mandate.

“Requiring health care settings, including hospitals, to verify the vaccination status of all health care workers — and to expect those who are unvaccinated to wear masks and be tested regularly — are important and necessary steps that must be taken in this extraordinary situation,” said Carmela Coyle, president and CEO of the California Hospital Association.

On the union front, SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West, which according to its website represents more than 100,000 health care workers across the state, also supported Newsom’s newest effort to combat the rise of COVID-19 cases, stated Renée Saldaña, SEIU-UHW press secretary.

Saldaña said the vaccination or testing requirement is “a reasonable step to protect the safety and wellbeing of patients and health care workers, many of whom are suffering from the prolonged trauma and stress of dealing with the pandemic.”

The California Nurses Association/National Nurses United stated it supports the coming vaccination or regular COVID-19 testing requirement for state and health care workers, and went a bit deeper.

“Science shows that a multiple-measures approach to infection control is the most effective, and vaccination is just one, albeit critical, component,” according to the CNA’s statement. The organization also called for the strong continuance of PPE and other protective measures. “These measures are equally as important for other settings that employ essential workers, including retail, grocery, food industry and more.”

Kristina Lawson, managing partner at San Francisco-based Hanson Bridgett LLP, as well as president of the Medical Board of California, said in a tweet Monday that the private employer is requiring all of its employees and visitors across its five locations to show proof of vaccination.

The law firm, which has an office in San Rafael, told the Business Journal on Tuesday that Hanson Bridgett’s vaccination requirement also extends to anyone who attends a firm-sponsored event at other locations.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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