St.John's Health. Photo: Nick Sulzer // Buckrail

JACKSON, Wyo. — During Monday’s Board of County Commissioners meeting, St. John’s Health Interim CEO Dave Robertson discussed how a federal vaccine mandate would affect the hospital in terms of staffing, calling it “a very challenging time.”

On the same day, St. Louis based U.S. District Judge Matthew Schelp granted a preliminary injunction to a colation of 10 states, including Wyoming, blocking President Biden’s administration from enforcing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate on healthcare workers employed at facilities that participate in the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

According to the Associated Press, the federal vaccine mandate requires COVID-19 vaccinations for more than 17 million workers nationwide in about 76,000 health care facilities and home health care providers that get funding from the government health programs. Workers are to receive their first dose by Dec. 6 and their second shot by Jan. 4.

Robertson explained to the commissioners that St. John’s Health is at risk of losing about 10% of its employees, roughly 80 people if the mandate is enforced. “At this point, it won’t be insignificant,” Robertson said.

“St. John’s is currently at a 12% vacancy rate,” Robertson said. “It is very possible we could see as much as a 20% vacancy rate which will dramatically impact our ability to truly accommodate all of the needs of the community.”

In the past, St. John’s has used traveling nurses as a recruiting strategy to help fill vacancies in the short term but Robertson explained that national demand has exhausted this option.“Travel healthcare workers are in extreme demand and many are unvaccinated,” Robertson said.

“Recruitment is an extreme challenge,” he said. Across the country, an estimated 20-25% of healthcare workers have left the field since COVID-19.

“We don’t even learn of available candidates. They simply go online look at rental rates and self-select out of our consideration so we never even know they are possible candidates,” Robertson said.

When asked about morale at the hospital, Robertson shared that over the past few weeks the hospital has seen a reduction in patient volumes. “It’s been the first break we’ve had in terms of volume in a very long time,” Robertson said. But the looming vaccine mandate has created stress for both vaccinated and unvaccinated employees.

“For our staff that is unvaccinated, I think there is a lot of frustration there. For the year prior to the vaccine they were actively working and considered heroes. And today, since they aren’t vaccinated they seen differently,” Robertson said. “For the vaccinated staff, there is a lot of concern about the workload shifts that will occur if we have any significant number of employees that have to leave healthcare.”

“Nationally, as of about a month ago, 30% of healthcare workers are not vaccinated,” Robertson said.

Unlike the OSHA mandate that applies to businesses with over 100 employees, there is no provision in the Healthcare vaccine mandate that allows for weekly testing rather than vaccination. The Healthcare worker vaccine mandate does allow for medical or religious exemptions.

Buckrail @ Lindsay

Lindsay Vallen is a Community News Reporter covering a little bit of everything; with an interest in politics, wildlife, and amplifying community voices. Originally from the east coast, Lindsay has called Wilson, Wyoming home since 2017. In her free time, she enjoys snowboarding, hiking, cooking, and completing the Jackson Hole Daily crosswords.