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St. Luke's in 'full-court press' to get more employees vaccinated

St. Luke's employees risk losing their jobs if they don't get vaccinated against COVID-19 by the health system's September 1 deadline.

BOISE, Idaho — The deadlines for employees of St. Luke's, Saint Alphonsus and Primary Health to get vaccinated against COVID-19 are fast approaching.

In early July, all three private health care companies announced their employees had been given September deadlines to either get vaccinated or face termination. Employees can seek exemptions for religious or medical reasons.

The St. Luke's deadline hits first, on September 1. St. Luke's Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jim Souza says they're putting on a full-court press to get more workers vaccinated before then. He says, at the time of the announcement, 79-percent of St. Luke's more than 14-thousand employees had already been vaccinated. That means about 3,000 were not vaccinated. He says since then, about another 450 have gotten their shots.

At a time when the hospital's beds are filling up because of a surge of COVID cases, Dr. Souza says he is concerned about losing a large number of employees because of the requirement, but the decision will stand.

"I'm very concerned. That's why we're engaged in a full-court press to meet with and listen to and speak with and do everything we can to help our people with this decision, because our belief is that they are more likely to be alive, healthy, with us and providing care to people with a vaccine in their arm," Dr. Souza said.

The potential loss of staff is one reason St. Luke's Pediatric Intensive Care Unit Medical Director Dr. Derrick Dauplaise opposes the vaccination requirement.

"Their statement is there's a plan to do more rapid hiring and onboarding, which makes a lot of sense," Dr. Dauplaise said. "When units experience turnover, the workload shifts to be shouldered by the more experienced staff. Having staff shortages is not related to just an able person, but to their skill-set and training as well. Having a plan to hire more staff is in direct competition with a national shortage of health care workers. There's already a small pool to nationally pull from."

The deadline for Primary Health employees to get vaccinated is September 9. The deadline for Saint Alphonsus employees is September 21.

On Viewpoint this Sunday morning at 9 o'clock Dr. Souza and Dr. Dauplaise lay out their arguments for and against the vaccination requirement for employees.

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