97% of Colorado health care workers vaccinated or received exemptions by state deadline

Ninety percent of Colorado’s health care workers were fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of Tuesday, though people providing home care are significantly less likely to have gotten the shot.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported 90.2% of workers were fully vaccinated, and 1.4% were partially vaccinated. More than 5% of workers had an exemption: 4.2% were religious exemptions and 1.3% were medical.

Sunday was the deadline for almost all facilities to comply with the vaccination mandate that the state Board of Health issued at the end of August. Individual doctors’ offices and urgent care facilities, which aren’t regulated by the state, are exempt.

It wasn’t clear from the state’s data how many of the 3% who weren’t vaccinated and didn’t have an exemption were still working in health care. Some hospitals have reported they already fired those employees or took their noncompliance as a letter of resignation, while others have said unvaccinated workers are on leave while they try to work out a solution.

The high overall vaccination rate masked wide variation. Dialysis centers had the highest rate, with more than 95% of employees listed as fully vaccinated. That’s not altogether surprising, because people who have end-stage kidney disease are at a high risk of hospitalization or death from many infections, including COVID-19.

On the other end of the spectrum, only about 79% of people working for home care agencies were fully vaccinated. Home care agencies primarily offer personal care that doesn’t require medical training, such as assisting clients with getting dressed or doing housework. Most home care clients are over 65 or have a significant disability, meaning they also could be at high risk if a worker unknowingly brought the virus into their homes.

The state’s dashboard didn’t allow for comparisons between employee types, but nationwide data has shown that people with higher levels of education are more likely to get vaccinated than those with less schooling.

The full-vaccination rates, as reported to the Colorado health department as of Tuesday afternoon, were:

  • Dialysis centers: 95.4%
  • Assisted living facilities: 91.9%
  • Hospitals: 91.6%
  • Community mental health centers: 91.5%
  • Hospice: 91.5%
  • Nursing homes: 90.8%
  • Ambulatory surgery centers: 90.7%
  • Freestanding emergency rooms: 90.2%
  • Community clinics: 88.7%
  • Acute treatment units: 88.0% (These provide short-term psychiatric treatment for people who need something between outpatient and hospital care)
  • Intermediate care facilities for people with intellectual disabilities: 87.0%
  • Birth centers: 86.2%
  • Convalescent centers: 85.4% (These offer inpatient care to people recovering from an injury or illness.
  • Residential care facilities for people with intellectual disabilities: 84.3%
  • Home health agencies: 81.7% (These primarily offer medical care, unlike home care agencies)
  • Home care agencies: 78.7%

There was also significant variation within categories. Denver Health reported more than 97% of its employees were fully vaccinated, but Parkview Medical Center in Pueblo showed only about 88% were.

Colorado’s health systems reported relatively few employees remained unvaccinated:

  • SCL Health, which owns five hospitals in Colorado, reported about 1% of employees hadn’t complied as of Monday. About 5.3% received a medical or religious exemption, and the rest were vaccinated.
  • Centura Health, which owns 15 hospitals in Colorado and two in Kansas, reported 0.3% of its workers across the system didn’t get the shot or an exemption.
  • HealthOne, which owns eight hospitals in Colorado, reported 93% of employees had gotten vaccinated as of last week, and less than 1% had gotten an exemption. Updated numbers weren’t available Tuesday.
  • UCHealth set an Oct. 1 deadline. It fired 119 people for failing to get vaccinated, or about 0.5% of employees.

SCL said it will suspend employees for three days, and take it as notice of resignation if they don’t get the shot or apply for an exemption by the end of their suspension. Centura said it was working with unvaccinated employees to bring them into compliance, and HealthOne didn’t describe the steps it would take.

In Denver, people who work in higher-risk settings, including health facilities, had to get vaccinated by Oct. 1 to comply with a city mandate. The city didn’t release data about compliance in health care settings, but reported about 99% of city employeesgot either the shot or an exemption. The vast majority chose to get vaccinated.

At the time the state board passed the mandate, some predicted as many as 20% of health care workers might choose not to comply. Two nationwide surveys in June had found about half of unvaccinated workers, across industries, had said they would quit rather than get the shot.

Most employers have reported 2% or fewer employees ultimately quit or were fired, though some small hospitals reported up to 5% of employees left, according to Fierce Healthcare.

Generally, people who are fired because of a vaccine mandate aren’t eligible for unemployment, and it would be difficult to find a health care job that doesn’t require vaccination because of a federal mandate.

Any health facility that gets paid by Medicare or Medicaid — in practice, almost every provider except for small concierge physician practices — must require its employees to get vaccinated.

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