Unvaccinated health workers to be laid off from Long Beach hospitals

The deadline for California health workers to get their mandatory COVID-19 vaccine has come and gone. And here in Long Beach, there are some holdouts that face termination if they do not receive the shot in the coming days, according to hospital officials.

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.

In Long Beach, over 98% of MemorialCare health system’s roughly 6,000 active employees and medical staff members are vaccinated, spokeswoman Richele Steele said in an email last week. A “relatively small” percentage of Memorial’s workforce requested and qualified for medical or religious exemptions, Steele said.

Exempt employees are working remotely or have been assigned to positions outside the patient care setting, Steele said, adding that those onsite are required to be tested frequently and to wear an N95 mask at all times.

Any employee who did not get vaccinated as of Sept. 30 or approved for exemption was placed on unpaid leave for one week to “allow them additional time to comply,” Steele said in the Oct. 1 email.

“If they choose not to comply after that point, then … they will not be able to maintain their employment with MemorialCare,” Steele said.

Dignity Health, meanwhile, which operates St. Mary Medical Center, has said more than 90% of its California employees have been inoculated against COVID-19 or been approved for an exemption, a hospital spokesperson said in an email.

St. Mary staff who are not vaccinated or exempt have been placed on administrative leave, a spokesperson said. The hospital did not specify how long staff would remain on leave before being terminated but noted the hospital will remain “appropriately staffed to continue providing essential health care services.”

“Dignity Health supports state and federal guidelines that require COVID-19 vaccinations for health care workers,” the spokesperson added.

The layoffs will come in the midst of a nationwide nurse shortage that has hospitals competing for staff, many offering exorbitant shifts and signing bonuses as incentives. Many hospitals in the Southern California region are operating with a high percentage of supplemental nurses, who are being paid premiums up to $2,500 per shift.

In Long Beach, 68% of eligible residents ages 12 and up are fully vaccinated against the virus, while 78% have received at least one dose, according to data published to the city’s COVID-19 dashboard Wednesday. New daily cases and hospitalizations have subsided from the most recent surge but deaths continue to trickle in, now at 1,022 after reaching the 1,000 mark on Sept. 16.

“As a trusted healthcare provider in the community, MemorialCare has a responsibility to do all that we can to provide the safest environment possible for our patients and our physicians, nurses and other staff,” Steele said. “We are tremendously grateful to and supportive of all our doctors, nurses, technicians and other providers who have performed so admirably and selflessly during the pandemic.”

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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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