Responding to warnings that the state’s vaccination mandate for all health-care facilities — to take effect September 30 — will spark an exodus of skilled medical staff, Cottage Health issued a statement claiming that 90 percent of all employees have already been vaccinated and that 80 percent had voluntarily gotten vaccinated before the mandate had been announced.
“We expect a small number of employees may leave due to the vaccine requirement — not all of those are working in patient care roles,” stated Maria Zate, Cottage spokesperson. “Our hope is that those who have not yet made a decision will choose to get vaccinated before the end of the month.”
At this Tuesday’s county Board of Supervisors meeting, one speaker highly critical of the vaccine mandates predicted the mandate would trigger an avalanche of resignations from nurses and other health-care professionals who feel strongly that such decisions should be a matter of individual choice, thus creating a health-care crisis because of a shortage of nurses. This Tuesday’s speaker — Jean Galvin —claimed that Cottage had posted job listings for more than 50 positions in anticipation.
Similar pictures had been painted multiple times in board meetings over the past months by speakers upset about looming vaccine and mask mandates. In Cottage’s statement of response, Zate noted that Cottage, in fact, has more than 200 patient care positions open. She noted this is an increase from 2019, but said it does not reflect staff turnover. Instead, she said, it reflected Cottage’s decision to open 12 new urgent-care centers since June 2020 and the additional jobs required.
It’s an open secret that, industry-wide, hospitals and clinics have been hard hit by staff turnover in the wake of the COVID pandemic. In recent meetings, the supervisors have heard several nurses offer emotionally powerful testimony against the mandates. One — an employee at Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria — described sleeping in a tent in her front yard after coming home from work so as to not infect her 3-year-old child. Her argument was that those who sacrificed to the extent she did before there was a vaccine available should be trusted to decide for themselves whether or not to get vaccinated and should not be forced to choose between their job and the needle.
Zate stated that Cottage hospitals “have been relatively stable” over the past few years and “compares favorably” with national and industry benchmarks.” Nursing retention, she stated, has been 93 percent since 2019.
Zate added that more than 80 percent of the patients hospitalized at Cottage for COVID in August were either unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated.