JOHN DAY — With roughly a month before state COVID-19 vaccine mandates kick in Oct. 18 for some workers in Oregon, county health and education officials said the county faces an uncertain future when it comes to staffing in some areas in Grant County.
Grant County officials in health and education have reached out to staff ahead of Gov. Kate Brown’s pending deadline for some worker classes to get vaccinated or lose their jobs if they cannot provide a valid medical or religious exemption.
Kimberly Lindsay, the county’s public health administrator, told the Eagle that throughout all of Community Counseling Solutions, which oversees public health in Grant County and Heppner, just two of their staff of 200 people have said they would not get the vaccine and will leave the company after the deadline. One of those staffers, she said, is from Grant County.
That number could grow, however. Lindsay noted that there are four weeks left before the deadline and that she has only heard from 75% of her staff so far.
Last week, Blue Mountain Hospital CEO Derek Daly said the hospital’s vaccination rate mirrored the overall rate among health care providers in the county, which is at 53% overall. That’s up from 46% but still the third-lowest in all of Oregon.
Daly said he and his peers in the rural health care industry are “obviously” concerned about the impacts after Oct. 18. However, he pointed out that they have seen an uptick in vaccinations since the requirements came out.
He also said that in small rural hospital districts such as Blue Mountain, there are valid religious exemptions and that his organization is doing its “due diligence” to follow the law and respond to those requests.
Daly said that the hospital BMHD belongs to an Eastern Oregon Association of Hospitals peer group that can help mitigate a potential staff shortage. He said the group has extra traveling nurses and medical personnel throughout the state.
Grant School Disrict 3 Superintendent Bret Uptmor told the Eagle on Sept. 7 that he is still in the process of collecting information from staff. However, he said he is sending out a survey asking if employees have rolled up their sleeves yet and if they would share their vaccination cards. For those who have not been vaccinated, he is asking if they have obtained a religious or medical exemption.
Uptmor said he did not know how many staff within the district were vaccinated. As of Sept. 7, he said he had sent out 35 out of 100 survey questionnaires.
Uptmor said he was not sure if he could release the exact number of vaccinated staff and would get back in touch with the Eagle when he knew. However, he did not immediately respond to the Eagle’s phone calls and emails on Monday.
“If your medical is in your hands,” he said, “why, why would I share that with somebody?”