1 week out from vaccine mandate, Oregon Nurses Assoc. concerned for future

OREGON — The state vaccine mandate for health care workers, teachers, and others goes into effect 1 week from today. Governor Kate Brown’s vaccine mandate requires health care staff to get vaccinated by October 18th to help control the spread of COVID-19 and its Delta variant.

That leaves some health care workers with a difficult choice as the deadline approaches. They need to either get vaccinated or get approval from their employer on their religious or medical exception to keep their jobs.

“Of course, the mandate deadline approaching has been emotional and stressful because there’s definitely a bit of a schism in the workplace, with nurses that are unhappy about the mandate and nurses that are extremely pro-mandate,” said Misha Hernandez, a representative for the Oregon Nurses Association.

RELATED: Nursing union says Providence may hold spots for caregivers on leave due to vax mandate

She works primarily with Providence Medford Medical Center. She says she believes more Providence nurses are getting vaccinated before the deadline but says a ‘handful’ is leaving the health care industry altogether.

“There are people that have chosen to not get vaccinated and are retiring or leaving the profession, and then there are some folks that have legitimate medical reasons to not get vaccinated – but I don’t know the exact numbers,” she said.

“Broadly speaking, we think more than 90% of nurses that are represented by the Oregon Nursing Association have been vaccinated,” ONA Director of Communications Scott Palmer tells NBC5 News.

He says the association is now focusing on what hospitals will do for their vaccinated health care workers after the mandate goes into effect.

“What happens if 40% of the nurses in southern Oregon decide that they don’t want to stay in nursing in the next 6 to 8 to 10 months because of the pressure they’re under? That is a much bigger crisis coming down the road if hospital systems don’t take these issues seriously,” said Palmer.

Hernandez agrees with Palmer, as she says traveling nurses, CNAs, and techs are only a temporary fix for the short-term.

“What we really need to do is invest in greater options around education, and then going back to the hospitals, talk about new opportunities to get new nurses in the workplace,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez says contracts for traveling nurses, CNAs, and techs at Providence typically last around 5 and a half months.

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