Desert Oasis Healthcare is among the first healthcare providers in the Coachella Valley to now require its employees to be vaccinated. On Monday employees were notified that they have until September 1 to do so.
So far more than 70 percent of the Desert Oasis Healthcare workforce is vaccinated, according to a company spokesperson.
An employee of the healthcare group reached out to News Channel 3 and provided a memo that was distributed to employees on Monday. While the employee wanted to remain anonymous, they expressed disappointment, saying that many employees have dedicated years to the company and are now being given an ultimatum.
"If they seek a valid exemption, we can accommodate them," said Brian Hodgkins, Executive Vice President of Clinical Operations at Desert Oasis Healthcare. "We understand and empathize that some employees are going to be unable to be vaccinated. Under Title VII there’s religious exemptions, or sincerely held belief exemptions. Under the (American with Disabilities Act) there are medical exemptions and these provide our employees off-ramps so that they can avoid getting vaccinated because they feel they cannot. This is a private matter for them and (human resources), they are counseled on how to submit for an exemption," Hodgkins said.
If an employee is granted an exemption, they would then enter what Hodgkins said is the 'accommodation phase,' which could entail telework or telecommunication. However, it is harder for employees working in a clinical setting.
"We will do our best to accommodate. Yes, there may be some employees that might be separated from service from us and I'd be sad to see them actually have to suffer that consequence. We are a healthcare organization dedicated and obligated to reducing suffering and illness in the community," Hodgkins said.
Many factors led up to the decision including the highly-contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus, which has been detected in Riverside County. Officials said that they are seeing a 20 percent positive COVID rate in their clinics-- a number they haven't seen for two months.
"I think the last push for us is we’re worried about this next surge, we’re worried about breakthrough infections," Hodgkins said.
The deadline date to be vaccinated was strategically set as schools are slated to return and as flu season is expected to pick up.
"We’ve been monitoring this and we’ve been, as a healthcare organization, we’re dedicated, we’re obliged and obligated to actually preventing suffering and death and that’s why we’re at the next phase of this which is mandating why our employees get vaccinated as well," Hodgkins said.
The decision comes as companies, not just in healthcare, have started requiring the same of their employees. Just last month in Houston, Texas more than 150 hospital staff were either fired or resigned for refusing the shot.
This week the University of California announced its new policy ahead of the upcoming fall term: students, staff and faculty must be vaccinated to return to campuses.
"I thought that all of the healthcare professionals would have been vaccinated so I’m very surprised to hear that some of them haven’t. Whatever the reason might be, I’m not sure. I expect everybody to be vaccinated," Cathedral City resident and Desert Oasis Healthcare patient, Lana Ghuilarducci said.
Ghuilarducci visited the Palm Springs campus on Friday. She expressed to News Channel 3 that she was under the impression that all healthcare workers had to be vaccinated.
"We made a decision approximately six weeks ago or so that all of our staff and volunteers must be vaccinated in order to continue their employment and/or volunteer," Coachella Valley Volunteers in Medicine Executive Director, Doug Morin said.
While some healthcare providers are starting to require the vaccine, others in the Coachella Valley still only highly encourage it.
"Eisenhower Health encourages everyone to get a Covid-19 vaccine. At this time, it is not required for employees," said Eisenhower Health media coordinator and public relations specialist, Lee Rice.
"While we encourage our staff to get the vaccine, it is not required," a spokesperson from Desert Care Network told News Channel 3.
Kaiser Permanente also took a similar stance. In a statement, a spokesperson said:
"We are encouraged to see that the majority of our frontline health care workers offered the vaccine have been vaccinated, a critical first step in the society-wide vaccination that will be required to control and eventually end this terrible pandemic.
Conducting vaccine education has been part of our vaccine efforts for our employees, physicians and member population. While most people are excited to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, some are hesitant, so it is clear to us that vaccine education is important to the overall success of our vaccination efforts."