Hawaii’s largest hospitals, health networks to require workers to get COVID vaccine

Published: Aug. 2, 2021 at 11:24 AM HST|Updated: Aug. 2, 2021 at 5:49 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Amid a surge in COVID in the islands, Hawaii’s largest healthcare facilities and networks jointly announced plans Monday to institute vaccine requirements for workers.

The rules will be in place at:

  • Hawaii Pacific Health, including Kapiolani and Straub medical centers
  • The Queen’s Health Systems, including the Queen’s Medical Center
  • Adventist Health Castle
  • and Kaiser Permanente, including its Moanalua Medical Center

Officials said the requirements will go into effect on Sept. 30 or Oct. 1, giving unvaccinated employees time to get the shot. There will be limited exemptions, the details of which aren’t yet decided.

“We think this is the best decision we can make. Certainly not an easy decision. But the best decision to get rid of the scourge of the pandemic,” said Dr. Todd Allen, senior vice president for the Queen’s Health Systems.

Representatives from the various hospitals and networks of care didn’t say what would happen if an employee declines to get vaccinated but also doesn’t qualify for an exemption.

“A lot of these details are still being worked out,” said Greg Christian, Hawaii president for the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospital.

But the Queen’s Health Systems did say that unvaccinated doctors and staff will be subject to weekly COVID testing starting Oct. 1. Those who don’t get tested won’t be allowed to work.

“We know that the best way to protect ourselves against this rapidly-spreading virus is to get vaccinated,” said Queen’s President and CEO Jill Hoggard Green. “The COVID vaccines are safe and effective, and they are our best tool to emerging from this persistent global pandemic.”

Read more: Hawaii healthcare professionals to unvaccinated: ‘Today’s the day’ to get the shot

Dr. Melinda Ashton, executive vice president of Hawaii Pacific Health, said about 85% of the HPH workforce is already fully vaccinated. Starting Oct. 1, HPH will also require vaccines for all workers.

“85% is good, but it’s not good enough,” Ashton said.

The announcement comes as a growing number of large companies and government agencies nationally also announce vaccine mandates as the highly contagious delta variant continues to drive up case counts. The governor has said he’s not ready to institute a mandate for state workers, but the president has put one in place for federal civilian workers, contractors and healthcare workers.

In announcing the mandates Monday, healthcare officials said they need to be part of the solution.

“This policy is meant to protect all patients and personnel from the known and substantial risks of COVID-19,” said Hilton Raethel, president and CEO of the Health Association of Hawaii.

“This is our moral, ethical and professional duty.”

The Healthcare Association of Hawaii said it too supported vaccine mandates for workers at nursing homes, assisted-living, hospice and long term care facilities. Initially it called for the requirement to go into effect upon FDA approval. But later backtracked saying that mandate could come sooner.

Hawaii has seen daily case counts soar in recent weeks. More recently, hospitalizations are also growing but the governor has said that so far Hawaii’s medical facilities can handle the increased need.

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