As cases rises and vaccinations stall, Hawaii’s health care facilities consider mandates

On Monday, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced a vaccine mandate for its medical employees.
Published: Jul. 26, 2021 at 4:51 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 26, 2021 at 5:22 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - As COVID infections locally and nationally continue to soar, Hawaii’s health centers are discussing the possibility of instituting vaccine mandates for staff members.

Hilton Raethel, the president and CEO of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, said hospitals are having “substantive and serious discussions” about whether vaccines should be required for all health care workers. He added that a climbing positivity rate has many in the industry concerned.

On Monday, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced a vaccine mandate for its medical employees. It’s the first federal agency to require health care workers to get COVID vaccines.

The mandate applies to Tripler Army Medical Center, where 80% of 1,400 health care workers are vaccinated. The remaining 20% have eight weeks to get the shot.

Raethel called the VA mandate is significant and said other government agencies will likely follow.

In one major bright spot: Hawaii does have the highest vaccination rates among staff at facilities that care for the elderly, according to AARP.

“More than 80% of workers in nursing homes have been vaccinated and I think that’s a measure of how much the workers care about the patients,” said Craig Gima, AARP-Hawaii spokesman.

The rate is even higher at the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home in Hilo, where nearly 90% of staff and patients have completed the process. The virus ravaged the home last year; 27 people died and more than 100 workers and residents were infected.

“We’re going to continue to discuss the options,” said Elena Cabatu, spokesperson for the Hilo Medical Center, which is in charge of the home’s residents.

“Weighing the pros and cons in order to arrive at the best decision for our hospital and staff,” she said about mandates.

Unvaccinated workers at some health care centers are tested regularly.

Raethel said mandates are not ideal. But, he added, “that is a potential option if we run out of all other options to get our (vaccination) numbers up higher.”

The state is also discussing mandatory requirements for those who work in jails and prisons, where there have been several large outbreaks.

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