Gov. Jay Inslee hedshot
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee

Washington state has joined a growing movement in announcing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for long-term care workers.

Monday, Gov. Jay Inslee (D) on Monday announced a vaccine requirement for long-term care workers, including those in assisted living, as well as workers in private healthcare and most state workers, on-site contractors and volunteers. The mandate comes as Washington experiences a severe increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in every county due to the delta variant.

Long-term care workers have until Oct. 18 to be fully vaccinated. Employers will need to verify vaccination status of their employees.  Anyone refusing to be vaccinated will be subject to dismissal for failing to meet legal job qualifications.

Washington Health Care Association President and CEO Robin Dale said she agrees with vaccinating all healthcare personnel to avoid vaccine-resistant workers changing facilities. But she told McKnight’s Senior Living that concerns exist about “unintended consequences” as it relates to loss of staff.

“Once the governor’s mandate is in effect, vaccine-resistant staff will need to make the more difficult choice of either getting the vaccine or leaving the healthcare sector,” Dale said. “Our position is that the state needs to activate ‘drop teams’ who can be on call and available to assist facilities if there is a dangerous drop in available staff.”

Dale said that a drop program was used during the “darkest days of the pandemic” and that those teams need to be reinstated in case staffing levels “take a precipitous drop due to vaccination hesitancy among staff.”

Although the WHCA did not know exact staff vaccination rates for all long-term care facilities in the state, based on provider feedback, she said the overall long-term care staff vaccination rate is estimated to be 68% to 70%.

Inslee said there is no test-out option, as past policies in congregate living facilities proved to be inefficient in preventing coronavirus outbreaks. Providing such an option also would be a financial burden for staff members and taxpayers and would be “ineffective,” he said.

“These workers live in every community in our state, working together and with the public every day to deliver services,” Inslee said in a statement. “We have a duty to protect them from the virus, they have the right to be protected, and the communities they serve and live in deserve protection as well.”