Anchorage hospitals say compliance for vaccine mandates is over 98%

Anchorage hospitals say vast majority of staff are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Anchorage hospitals say vast majority of staff are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.(ktuu)
Published: Oct. 19, 2021 at 6:39 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Deadlines have come and gone for two of Anchorage’s largest hospitals that mandated COVID-19 vaccines for their employees, and the vast majority of staff chose to get vaccinated and stay.

Staff of Providence Alaska were told they had until the end of the day Monday to prove they were fully vaccinated, or be approved for an exemption. The Alaska Native Medical Center’s vaccine policy deadline was Oct. 15.

Dr. Robert Onders, administrator for Alaska Native Medical Center, said more than 98% of staff at both Southcentral Foundation and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium are now in compliance. Of the roughly 3,100 people who work at ANTHC, Onders said 59 employees either resigned or were let go from their jobs over noncompliance with the policy. Despite protests by some employees earlier in the summer, in the end, Onders said the decision to vaccinate wasn’t a big deal for most of their staff.

“For the vast majority of the employees here, we didn’t have an issue,” Onders said. “... I think our initial issue when the vaccine initially rolled out, was everyone wanted it immediately. And so the vast majority of employees in the health care workforce understand that, you know, vaccinations are a critical part of our employee health and well-being and the environment of care.”

Onders said about 80 employees requested medical exemptions to the policy, and about 40 of the requested medical exemptions were granted.

Providence Alaska, which includes Providence facilities across the state, announced a vaccination mandate for employees in August. Human Resources Officer Florian Borowski said 99.3% of the 4,600-person workforce is now in compliance with the policy. Borowski said a handful of employees resigned over it, but didn’t give a specific number. He said a small number were also given medical and religious exemptions.

But even those who refused to get vaccinated by Monday’s deadline weren’t fired. Instead, Borowski said they were put on 30-day unpaid leave in the hope that they might change their minds.

“The intention is to help them be able to get information so they can consider becoming compliant with our policy,” Borowski said. “If, unfortunately, they choose not to become compliant in the next 30 days, we will be separating their employment.”

Alaska Regional Hospital is not requiring vaccinations of employees, although it is “strongly encouraged.” A spokeswoman said employees are asked to log their vaccination status, and the majority are fully vaccinated.

Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson has been critical of mandating vaccines, and last month suggested that Providence Alaska Medical Center would lose 20-30% of its workforce over the vaccine requirements.

In a response Tuesday to the vaccine requirement compliance rates, Bronson said in an emailed statement that health care workers losing their jobs over the vaccine policies “is clearly happening.”

“I have heard for weeks from dozens of medical professionals including nurses and surgery technicians at Providence and ANTHC facilities who say they will lose their jobs if they don’t get vaccinated,” he wrote.

According to the statement, Bronson wants to hear from the community on the issue.

“My job as mayor is to make sure everybody is treated fairly,” the statement reads.

In recent weeks, health care workers in Alaska have been the target of verbal threats and even violence as tensions over COVID-19 public health mitigation measures rise.

Outside of Anchorage, Foundation Health Partners reported earlier this month that when their vaccine policy deadline hit on Oct. 1, just 11 out of the roughly 1,850 staff left the organization rather than get vaccinated. That’s about 0.6% of Foundation Health Partners’ total staff.

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