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Some facilities to mandate staff vaccinations

Maui Health System still considering requirements

Staff administer COVID-19 vaccines during the ongoing clinic in Maui Memorial Medical Center’s main lobby in April. Four major hospital systems in Hawaii as well as Hale Makua said they will start requiring vaccinations for employees. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

Four major hospital systems in Hawaii — along with Maui’s nursing home agency — announced that they will require employees to be vaccinated, but Maui County’s hospital system stopped short of declaring such a mandate on Monday.

Maui Health System, a Kaiser affiliate that runs Maui Memorial Medical Center, Kula Hospital and Lanai Community Hospital, said Monday afternoon that it is considering mandatory vaccinations but declined to offer a timeline and other details.

Maui Memorial has 88.5 percent of its employees vaccinated, according to a spokeswoman.

Hale Makua Health Services, meanwhile, said that it will mandate vaccinations for staff once a COVID-19 vaccination is FDA approved. Later, Hale Makua CEO Wesley Lo said officials will consider mandating the vaccination regardless of FDA approval. He added that they are developing a policy to include appropriate exemptions.

Hale Makua has 83 percent of its employees vaccinated, which includes both Kahului and Wailuku locations and home health services, along with any contractors that work within their facilities, according to a spokeswoman.

A dose of Moderna vaccine is drawn into a syringe in April during the state Department of Health’s vaccination clinic at the University of Hawaii Maui College.

“We want to continue to provide safe quality care within our communities for our high-risk elderly residents — to do this, we at (Healthcare Association of Hawaii) are encouraging and supporting the vaccine mandate upon FDA approval to ensure that we can responsibly continue to care for our kupuna, for each other and for our families,” said Lo, who also serves as the long-term care chairman for the Healthcare Association of Hawaii.

During a virtual news conference Monday, Hale Makua joined four major hospital systems with Healthcare Association of Hawaii, the state’s trade group for hospitals and nursing homes, to declare employee vaccination requirements. Maui Memorial Medical Center, Kula Hospital and Lanai Community Hospitals are association members.

Maui Health said in a news release that it recognizes the “vital importance of that all vaccine-eligible health care employees are vaccinated” but is still mulling over a possible mandate.

“Maui Health is also considering mandatory vaccinations for employees and hospital leaders are actively working behind the scenes on how best to implement,” spokeswoman Tracy Dallarda said in the news release. “More details will be shared soon.”

As of Monday morning, there were 22 COVID-19-positive patients at Maui Memorial, with four of those in the ICU and one on a ventilator, Dallarda said.

“Some of these patients are younger suggesting that the COVID-19 variants, most notably the Delta variant — the most transmissible in younger populations and the cause of more severe disease — is actively spreading within the community,” she said. “Vaccination is still the best protection against contracting the virus and preventing severe disease and hospitalization.”

Spurred by surging COVID-19 cases, Hawaii is part of a national trend where health care employers are mandating that staff be vaccinated.

Hawaii hospital systems said during the news conference that they will allow vaccine exemptions and declined to say whether employees would be terminated for refusal.

Each system will implement its own policies and deadlines for vaccination. Adventist Health Castle said Sept. 30, Hawaii Pacific Health and Queen’s Health System said Oct. 1, and Kaiser Permanente and Hale Makua did not give dates for their staff vaccination deadlines.

Hilton Raethel, Healthcare Association of Hawaii president and CEO, said during the news conference that the position represents a consensus of association membership and that by adopting the policy, they stand in solidarity with national affiliates in supporting COVID-19 vaccinations for health care workers.

“This policy is meant to protect all patients and personnel from all known and substantial risks of COVID-19,” he said. “And we strongly urge the vaccination of all health care personnel with important considerations: The vaccines received all FDA approval and that reasonable accommodations and exemptions consistent with state and federal regulations are granted.”

Raethel said that the association urges all first responders to be vaccinated.

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.

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