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COVID In Colorado: Rural Hospitals Worry About Staffing As Vaccination Deadline Approaches

(CBS4)- The deadline for health care workers to get vaccinated is quickly approaching. President Joe Biden is requiring healthcare facilities that receive federal funds to get staff vaccinated, that's in addition to the state mandate announced earlier this month.

In Colorado, health care workers need to get their first dose by Sept. 30 or risk losing their job. Several health care facilities have already reported seeing employees opting to resign ahead of the deadline, particularly in rural parts of Colorado.

RURAL COVID HOSPITALS 6PKG.transfer_frame_464
(credit: CBS)

"It's really a challenge, this next week is going to be really a challenge," Jennifer Riley Vice President of Memorial Regional Hospital in Moffat County.

She says about 80% of their staff is vaccinated but worries about the staff who isn't having to be replaced.

"We have gotten 9 certain resignations, a couple has just walked off the job, some of the people who have let us know they are not staying, are working through the 30th which is the deadline," she said.

In Otero County, at least eight health care providers have raised their own concerns, sending letters to the governor asking for lenience or accommodations to the requirement because of the potential impact. Several say they could shut their doors.

(credit: CBS)

Otero County Commissioner Jim Baldwin was one of a handful who signed the letter.

"You know, we are losing our freedoms and that's what people are up in arms about," Baldwin said.

Riley says as a hospital, they know it's the right thing to do but that was an option for them at first to avoid an impact to the business.

That was no longer an option when it became a federal order and a stipulation for participating in the Medicare and Medicaid insurance programs.

"Medicare and Medicaid make up 66% of the revenue we receive annually, it's a big part of our population and if we were not able to take Medicare or Medicaid it would leave a huge gap for people needing that care," she said.

Should those that are unvaccinated choose to leave she says the hospital could have to reduce services.

"We may just not be able to staff as many beds as we have available, so we will have to look at what that is at the end of the day," Riley said.

Until then its wait and see.

Pfizer Vaccine
Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19. (CBS)

"The 30th is when we will see a change in who our employees are," she said.

Rural hospitals that CBS4 spoke to in July were already hurting for employees after many of their healthcare staff had left for large urban hospitals. They were also dealing like many other industries with a nationwide labor shortage.

The governor did respond to the facilities asking for accommodations. This is his statement, "The vast majority of frontline health care workers are vaccines [sic] and are begging their fellow Coloradans to get vaccinated because they are tired, battered, and bruised from taking care of unvaccinated Coloradans suffering from COVID-19. We have the cure to end this pain in the form of a safe and effective vaccine. We want to end the pandemic now and can do that by getting more Coloradans vaccinated. Under President Biden's executive order, these workers fall under a federal mandate - all health care facilities that receive federal Medicare and Medicaid dollars must be fully vaccinated.

"Many health care facilities and hospitals have already taken this necessary step and have shared their stories with the administration about the challenges they face to protect and care for their patients. We will review the letters, could potentially offer staffing support if necessary, will continue to follow the science and do what is best for our most vulnerable."


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