A stack of Valley Family Health Care consent forms for the Covid-19 vaccine stand ready for incoming patients outside their mobile clinic at Nyssa High School on Thursday, Aug. 19. (AUSTIN JOHNSON/The Enterprise)

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ONTARIO – As employers around Malheur County prepare to implement Gov. Kate Brown’s Covid vaccine mandate, Valley Family Health Care CEO Tim Heinze affirmed the science behind the mandate and said that increasing levels of vaccination had significantly lessened the need for his entity’s employees’ paid time off.

“Health care relies on evidence-based research and methodologies, and despite all the unfortunate misinformation and disinformation out there, the science behind measures being requested and in some places mandated is very clear,” Heinze said in an email to the Enterprise. “We believe we need to do what is in the best interests of the common good, and the health and safety of our staff, their families, our patients and those in the communities we serve is the most important consideration.”

To that end, Heinze said that Valley Family likely would have required the vaccine for employees at some point even in the absence of a state mandate.

Valley Family operates clinics in Malheur County in Ontario, Nyssa, and Vale.

Before a mandate was on the table, Valley Family offered a $250 incentive to employees who got vaccinated in May and saw the percentage of employees vaccinated climb from around 70% to almost 80%. 

“Almost all of our medical, dental, and behavioral health providers were vaccinated last winter or early spring, the majority doing so as soon as they were able,” Heinze said. “I am not aware of any providers who are leaving rather than getting the vaccine.”

By last week, about 90% of Valley Family staff was fully vaccinated. An additional 7.5% of the 265-strong workforce have received an exemption. 

“We are not exactly certain how many have left due to the mandate, but feel 10 or 11 is a close approximation,” Heinze said. 

Heinze said that prior to vaccine rollout, the company was paying up to $50,000 in time off certain months. The number of staff taking time off peaked at 72 in July 2020, coinciding with a surge in the pandemic.

“VFHC has been impacted...significantly by absences of staff who missed work either due to being sick with Covid-19 themselves, taking care of sick children or family members, or having to quarantine due to exposure to someone who was sick with Covid-19,” he said.

Now, Valley Family is paying closer to $3,000 a month in paid time off, representing a significant reduction in costs as employees have become vaccinated. In May, June and July 2021, only one employee received paid time off potentially related to Covid. 

As for the spectre of mass resignations due to the governor’s vaccine mandate, Heinze said there were other valid reasons staff might be leaving the health care profession right now. 

“The stress of a pandemic that has stretched over 18 months now has affected us all,” he said. “Many jobs and industries that have historically experienced high turnover are naturally going to see spikes as burnout and fatigue affect workers. Health care workers (and educators) initially lauded as ‘heroes’ now find themselves at times under attack. Personally, I find it hard to fault someone for leaving under such conditions.”

Despite that, Heinze said he was pleased with his remaining staff’s performance under tough circumstances. 

“I am extremely proud of the dedication to serve and perseverance of VFHC’s providers and staff, all the other medical and public health providers and everyone in the community working together to end the pandemic as quickly as possible,” he said.

News tip? Contact reporter Liliana Frankel at [email protected] or 267-981-5577.

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