Nearly all workers at Providence and Alaska Native health care system are complying with COVID vaccine mandates

Roughly 150 people came to protest vaccine mandates at the Alaska Native health campus on Aug. 5. Now that the mandates are in effect, more than 97% of employees at Southcentral Foundation, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and Providence Alaska Medical Center are in compliance. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

With COVID-19 vaccine mandates now in effect at the three largest health care employers in Anchorage, the vast majority of staffers are vaccinated and only a small percentage of the workforce was let go for noncompliance.

At Providence, 99.3% of employees have met the requirements of the policy, Providence Alaska Human Resources Director Florian Borowski said. Most of them did so by getting vaccinated, he said, and a smaller number by getting a religious or medical exemption.

“We’re not really going into the specific details associated with how many are in each category. But we’re really pleased with that level of compliance,” he said.

The mandate applies to 4,600 Providence employees. They work at the main hospital in Anchorage, and also at Providence’s long-term care and assisted living homes, and health care facilities in Kodiak, Seward and Valdez. Borowski did not break out numbers for each workplace.

Using the figures he supplied, about 30 employees refused vaccination and did not have an approved exemption. Borowski says they’ve either resigned or been put on unpaid leave.

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

At Southcentral Foundation, more than 96% of the 2,400 employees were fully vaccinated by late last week, according to CEO April Kyle. Another 1% of employees complied with the policy by getting an exemption.

Southcentral operates clinics that serve Alaska Native beneficiaries and it co-manages the Alaska Native Medical Center.

The other partner in managing the hospital, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, reports that more than 98% of its 3,000 workers have complied, most by vaccination. About 40 workers got an exemption, an ANTHC spokesperson said.

When the mandates were announced this summer, anti-vaccine activists and some health care workers protested. Mayor Dave Bronson, among others, predicted workers would leave in droves, worsening the hospital crisis. So far predictions of mass terminations or resignations have not materialized.

Nationwide, some 40% of hospitals now require their employees to be vaccinated, according to the American Hospital Association.

“In order to protect their patients, we think it’s critically important for health care workers to take that step of getting a vaccine,” said Nancy Foster, the association’s vice president for patient safety.

The mandate has cost some hospital employees their jobs, but Foster said that loss of service is, to some degree, offset by the resilience of a more vaccinated workforce.

“When you get the vaccine and you are protected, you are less likely to have to take time off from work, either because you become ill, or you’ve been exposed,” she said.

Alaska Regional Hospital does not have a vaccine mandate for its employees. A federal mandate for virtually all hospital and nursing home workers is coming. The rules are expected to be published by the end of the month. The effective date of the national mandate hasn’t been announced yet.

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Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her Read more about Lizhere.

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