St. Mary places unvaccinated workers on 90-day unpaid leave

The impact of the statewide health worker vaccination mandate in Long Beach likely will not be fully realized until the new year, with some health workers now on 90-day unpaid administrative leave for failing to comply, hospital officials said.

At the city’s three most prominent healthcare facilities, well over 90% of employees have been vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to hospital officials. At St. Mary Medical Center, the hospital with the lowest vaccination rate among staff, 92% of employees are in compliance with the mandate, including 41 who were approved for medical or religious exemption, a hospital spokesperson said in an email.

“Dignity Health is committed to maintaining the safest possible care environment for our patients and employees,” the spokesperson said, “and ensuring we are appropriately staffed to continue providing essential health care services for our communities.”

But the future of about 78 employees remains uncertain and in their own hands. St. Mary staff who did not seek exemption but remain unvaccinated were placed on a 90-day unpaid administrative leave on Oct. 1, the spokesperson said. If they do not get vaccinated within that time, their employment will be terminated.

For staff whose exemption request was denied, their three-month administrative leave begins this week, the hospital said. If these employees fail to get inoculated in that time, they will no longer work for the hospital, the spokesperson said.

On July 26, Long Beach health officials announced the city would require all health workers to be vaccinated or be subject to regular testing beginning Aug. 9. However, on Aug. 5, the California Department of Public Health made the vaccine mandatory for all health workers by Sept. 30, removing the testing option with few exceptions.

Community Hospital Long Beach staff, meanwhile, are more than 97% vaccinated, according to spokesman Brandon Dowling. The latest addition to the city’s health sector, reopening in January after closing in 2018, all of Community’s 350 employees have been inoculated against COVID-19 except for 10 who were approved for exemption.

“Those who chose not to for medical or religious reasons were accommodated and will comply with required testing,” Dowling said in an email.

One Community employee resigned as a direct result of the mandate, Dowling said.

At Long Beach Memorial and Miller Children’s & Women’s, over 98% of the roughly 6,000 active employees and medical staff are vaccinated, spokeswoman Richele Steele said in an email. A “small percentage” of the hospital’s workforce requested and qualified for exemptions, Steele said, but specific numbers were not provided.

Those with an exemption are working remotely or assigned to positions outside of patient care settings, Steele said. Vaccination-exempt staff that are onsite must be tested frequently and wear an N95 mask at all times, she added.

A small number of staff chose to terminate their employment with the hospital, Steele said, again declining to give specific figures. The hospital continues to support its former employees through the city’s Pacific Gateway workforce development and other resources, Steele added.

“We also remain open to considering them for rehire should they change their mind and become vaccinated,” Steele said. “The number of separated employees is so small it has not had a meaningful impact on staffing or operations.”

Unvaccinated health workers to be laid off from Long Beach hospitals

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Brandon Richardson is a business reporter, covering everything from real estate and healthcare to the airport and port to city hall and the economy. He is a Long Beach native who has been with the Business Journal since graduating from Long Beach City College in spring 2016 with an associate’s degree in journalism. He is an avid record collector and concert goer.
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