As governor’s vaccine mandate goes into effect, key local services will keep functioning after all

The final county-sponsored immunization clinic was held at Four Rivers Cultural Center last week. The county still lags behind most of the state in the percentage of residents who received a Covid vaccine. (The Enterprise/Liliana Frankel).

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VALE – Despite concerns that the state’s vaccine mandate would render key services inoperable due to an exodus of anti-vaccination employees, the ready availability of exemptions seems to have protected Malheur County from significant job loss.

Officials across the three main sectors where the mandate applies – schools, health care, and state government (including first responders like fire departments) – said that few employees were choosing to walk off their jobs. Instead, those who oppose the vaccine sought religious or medical exemptions so they can continue in their roles unvaccinated.

Employers can choose what exemptions they accept as valid. 

State Sen. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, who in August penned a letter with state Rep. Mark Owens, R-Crown, pleading with Gov. Brown to “halt and reverse” the mandate due to its potential to force workers out of jobs, said that “from what we thought six weeks to now the picture has changed.”

“I don’t know if we will be as draconian as we thought,” he said. “Until we get there it is pretty hard to tell.”

In local health care contexts, the overwhelming majority of employees have chosen to be vaccinated. 

Valley Family Health Care offered a $250 bonus for employees who got vaccinated this spring, and now about 90% are vaccinated, said CEO Tim Heinze. An additional 7.5% have received an exemption, with about 10 or 11 walking away from their jobs rather than get vaccinated, Heinze said.

At Saint Alphonsus Medical Center in Ontario, about 90% of employees are either vaccinated or exempt.

“We continue to work closely with our colleagues in a pending status review, hopefully adding to our compliance percentage,” said Mark Snider, media coordinator for the hospital. “Staffing levels will be evaluated after the governor’s deadline has passed.”

Heather Land, business manager at Treasure Valley Paramedics, said that of her 30-odd employees, all were vaccinated or had valid exemptions, with “very few exemptions.”

Angie Sillonis, public information officer for the Malheur County Health Department, said that agency’s employees are all vaccinated. 

In local schools, staff likewise seemed to be complying with the governor’s mandate, though exemptions are more of a factor. 

“As of today (Oct. 14), 90% of our employees are in compliance, and we expect 100% compliance by the Oct. 18 deadline,” said Darren Johnson, Nyssa superintendent. “We have a mix of exception requests and vaccinations, but a significant majority are vaccinated. No one has said they will leave their jobs since there is an alternate route to compliance.”

“From an early September survey, 98% of administration will be vaccinated, and 83% of classified staff will be vaccinated on or before the Oct. 18 deadline,” said Taryn Smith, public relations coordinator for the Ontario School District. “We have only had one staff member make the decision to leave their position rather than get the vaccine…91% of our certified staff shared that they plan to be vaccinated on or before the deadline. We have not had any teachers share that they will leave their jobs because of the mandate.”

“As of today (Oct. 14), Vale School District has received documentation from 94% of employees,” said Alisha McBride, Vale superintendent. “We have not had any employees resign from their positions because of the mandate. All exceptions that have been submitted have been approved by the district. Based on the documentation we have received thus far, 63% of staff members have been vaccinated and 37% have an approved religious or medical exception.”

“At this point in time, I have not received any information that someone will leave their job due to the vaccine mandate,” said Mark Redmond, interim superintendent of Adrian School District. “I have received either an exception or vaccination record from 34 of 54 total employees, which is 63%.” 

Officials from Jordan Valley School District, which claimed in Findley and Owens’ letter to the governor that 21 out of 25 employees wouldn’t be getting the vaccine, didn’t return calls or emails by press time.

For local fire departments, exemption forms seemed to be the way out of the vaccine mandate for a significant plurality of employees. 

Nyssa City Manager Jim Maret said that of 20 employees on the roster, he didn’t expect to lose anyone. 

“We are not going to be in trouble,” he said.

Ontario City Manager Adam Brown said that “close to at least half” of the city’s fire department was vaccinated, with nine members, including the chief, getting the shot. One firefighter will be getting the vaccine this week. 

Brown said of those firefighters with exemptions, one had a medical exemption, and the rest had religious exemptions.

In Vale, Todd Fuller, city manager, said that about half of the firefighters – 10 people – had gotten the vaccine as well. But even more – 12 people – had gotten exemptions. Two are still undecided. 

“We have approved all (exemptions),” he said. 

News tip? Contact reporters Liliana Frankel and Pat Caldwell, [email protected] or [email protected].

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