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Vaccination mandate prompts exemption requests at Grand River Health

Rifle hospital received 18 requests so far, about half granted

A handful of COVID-19 vaccines wait to be distributed to health care workers at Grand River Health earlier this year.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Colorado’s upcoming vaccination mandate geared toward the medical community has so far prompted at least 18 requests for medical exemptions by Grand River Health employees.

Grand River Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kevin Coleman, who’s in charge of medical exemptions, said Wednesday about half of those requests have been granted. Grand River’s employee vaccination rate continues to climb.

“That’s why this is a tough conversation,” Coleman said. “Every day the needle is moving towards a higher population being vaccinated.”



In anticipatory fashion, head doctors and administrators at Grand River have since June been having conversations about any potential for a vaccine mandate being implemented by the state.

“There’s a great multitude of different reasons why people are hesitant to get vaccinated,” Coleman said. “One of the biggest ones is they feel like the vaccine was rolled out too quickly. That’s probably the No. 1 reason that we get as to why people won’t (get vaccinated).”



Another reason some Grand River employees are skeptical of the vaccine pertains to misinformation, Coleman said.

“There’s a lot of misinformation on the internet about pregnancy and vaccinations, that it would cost sterility,” he said. “So a lot of our younger employees are really concerned about the ability to have a family someday, which, you know, they need to just look into it further.”

According to the order put in place by the state board of health, all employees, director contactors and support staff in the licensed medical community must receive their first COVID-19 vaccination by Sept. 30 and be fully vaccinated by Oct. 31.

Among the more than 640 employees at Grand River, at least 85-90% have been vaccinated, Coleman said. But, despite the numbers supposedly being unknown at this time, there still remains the potential for some employees to opt out of the vaccination and vacate their positions.

“We’re gonna feel the stress, we’re gonna feel the pressure, but we have dedicated staff that have consistently gone above and beyond throughout this pandemic to make sure that this community is cared for,” Coleman said.

Chief Experience Officer Kenda Spaulding said Tuesday employees who choose not to receive their first dose by Sept. 30 are allowed an extra 14-day grace period to reconsider.

Meanwhile, the only way hospital employees can avoid the vaccination requirement and keep their jobs is to apply for and be granted an exemption from hospital administration. Exemptions can be granted for either medical or religious reasons.

The number of Grand River employees who’ve submitted requests for medical exemptions has not been revealed. Though most organized religions allow vaccinations, Christian Science questions vaccinations and can see them as problematic, according to ChristianScience.com.

Over at Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs, the anticipated number of employees to opt out of vaccines is more clear. At least three dozen Valley View employees are anticipated not to receive their first dose by Sept. 30.

These employees plan to hold a walk-out event at Valley View at 11 a.m. Friday.

Grand River Health has already been combating a staffing shortage. The hospital is currently at least 100 employees short of full staff, Spaulding said. One reason is the hospital’s recent expansion efforts.

After hospital district voters passed an $89.4 million bond issue in November 2017, a new 100,000-square-foot addition was built onto Grand River’s main campus and opened in July. The new expansion extended the hospital’s total bed count to 25.

But by early September, Coleman said the new patient wing was intentionally yet to be fully occupied by medical staff so as to allow them more time to become acclimated with the new area.

Grand River’s staffing shortage has prompted hospital officials to maintain an average 15-bed occupancy, Spaulding said.

“There are more patients in the patient-care unit than nurses,” Spaulding said.

From that same 2017 bond issue, Grand River Health used the money to demolish the old E. Dene Moore Care Center to build a new, state-of-the-art care center in its place: Grand River Health Care Center.

Some of the living quarters — called neighborhoods — are still unoccupied.

Coleman said there’s a worker shortage across the country.

“We’ve been trying our best to be creative on how we might problem solve to get more staffing in,” he said. “The other thing about this community is that it’s very difficult to find housing. We might get somebody that’s interested in coming here, and they can’t find housing, or they can’t find affordable housing.”

So far, Grand River has continued recruiting efforts. Spaulding said administration has increased wages in an effort to attract and retain more applicants, while staffers in respective departments have essentially crisscrossed service lines to help out in other sections of the hospital.

“Travelers are nonexistent,” Spaulding said. “We’re not getting as rapid a hiring pace as we were hoping for.”

Grand River Health will have a better understanding next week of how many employees leave their positions due to the vaccine mandate, Spaulding said.

According to Garfield County Public Health, as of Wednesday COVID-19 cases reported in a seven-day period have slightly tapered, dropping from 136 cases between Sept. 8-14 to 104 cases between Sept. 22-28. In addition, the 14-day positivity rate for Garfield County is 6.7%

“I do think the medical community, by and large, feels very strongly that this is the only way out of this pandemic,” Coleman said. “We are exhausted. We’re tired of it.”

Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or rerku@postindependent.com.


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