(Natural News) Maine recently issued an order for healthcare workers in the state: Get a coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine or lose your job. The vaccine mandate has increased worries among behavioral health agencies and paramedics as staffing shortages continue.
Healthcare workers, as defined in the mandate, includes any individual who is employed by a hospital, multilevel healthcare facility, home health agency, nursing facility, residential care facility and intellectual disabilities licensed by the State of Maine.
Surge of new COVID cases compounds staffing shortage woes
Maine Gov. Janet Mills said that her mandate to require immunizations by Oct. 1 across the state meant to guard against staffing shortages and ensure patient safety. (Related: Thousands of health and nursing home workers face unemployment amid vaccine mandates at the workplace.)
But in healthcare industry that competes with others in offering wages, the risks of having a shortage of workers are higher as many contemplate complying or quitting.
The stakes are also rising as new COVID-19 cases surged in Maine and the rest of the U.S. because of the delta variant. The governor’s mandate for healthcare workers was one of the strongest, with no apparent alternative. The Biden administration also recently said that nursing homes will lose critical federal funding if they do not require workers to get vaccinated.
It remains unclear how many will leave the workforce due to the mandate, and opposition has been vocal. Healthcare workers and politicians that opposed the mandate have rallied in Portland, Bangor and Augusta.
OHI Maine, which is based in Bangor, had 82 job openings across 380 positions. The agency is providing support and direct care services for people with intellectual disabilities and autism had to close four of its group homes because it could not fill the vacancies. Some staff members are also almost living in the homes to care for their charges with complex needs.
Maine has one of the highest vaccination rates in the U.S., and most of its healthcare professionals have been vaccinated. Over 80 percent of hospital workers in the state were fully vaccinated as of July 31. The rates in nursing homes and intermediate care facilities were at 73 and 68 percent, respectively.
Maine Health, the state’s biggest healthcare provider based in Portland, has seen no turnover yet due to the vaccine. At Northern Light Health in Brewer, a spokesperson said a number of employees have tendered their resignations as they chose not to be vaccinated.
“We’re trying to provide as much support and education and information to respond to questions that employees might have to minimize any folks who feel that they need to leave healthcare as a profession,” said Paul Bolin, senior vice president and chief human resources officer at Northern Light Health.
Healthcare workers oppose mandate
Healthcare workers have their own reasons for refusing vaccination. Elizabeth Mink, a nursing assistant from Warren, said that she felt the vaccines have been developed too quickly.
Brianna Jipson, a Bangor-area nurse who works at a hospital near Augusta, said that she would rather get fired than vaccinated. She added that a lot of them are angry at the vaccine mandate. (Related: Healthcare workers fight back against dangerous flu vaccine mandates.)
Another healthcare worker stated: “I’m not anti-vax per se but we all should have a choice. We live in America and we have a right to our freedom, and we shouldn’t be forced to get anything that we don’t feel comfortable doing.”
Protest organizer Emily Nixon, who led a group of about 300 outside Maine Medical Center in Portland said to a crowd: “We are not anti-anything. We support the right to vaccinate. We support the right to choose.”
Read more COVID-19 related updates at Pandemic.news.