Rhonda Silence

Staffing crisis at North Shore Health not related to pending vaccine mandate

There continues to be concern about the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in Minnesota and the number of hospital beds available to treat seriously ill patients. However, another concern is the staffing situation at hospitals around the region, including North Shore Health in Grand Marais.

Complicating the staffing issue was the federal directive that all medical facility workers must be vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus. The deadline for medical workers to receive a first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, including those at North Shore Health in Grand Marais, was December 6. WTIP checked in with North Shore Health CEO Kimber Wraalstad on that date to learn how the vaccine mandate was impacting the local medical facility.

Wraalstad said there has been little impact so far, as there are legal challenges that have halted the enforcement of the mandate. On Monday, November 29, a federal judge issued an injunction against the mandate which applies to a coalition of states that are suing the government–Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

The court order said that the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid had no clear authority from Congress to enact the vaccine mandate for providers participating in the government health care programs.

Wraalstad said the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid has appealed that injunction, but the vaccine mandate is on hold. She said, “Everything is up in the air now.”

However, Wraalstad acknowledged that the question for patients and visitors to North Shore Health relates to the local healthcare staff. Wraalstad said, “As of today, either 100 percent have been vaccinated or have requested a religious or medical exemption.”

When WTIP Community Radio spoke with Wraalstad about this back in November, she said there were potentially 14 employees who would lose their jobs if not vaccinated or granted an exemption by November 6. Asked if any staff members left the hospital rather than comply, Wraalstad said there were a “couple of” employees who resigned. She added they were casual staffers, not full-time employees.

Regarding alternatives for the still-unvaccinated employees, Wraalstad those staff members will have to be routinely tested for the COVID-19 virus. The frequency depends on the community positivity rate, which is based on the overall number of cases in the county but could be anywhere from twice a week to once a month.

Wraalstad notes that the vaccine mandate has not had a significant impact on staffing at North Shore Health, but there is a staffing shortage in many departments. She said health care facilities regionally and nationally are in what has been dubbed a “staffing collapse.”

Wraalstad said there are currently 23,000 direct care provider positions open in the state of Minnesota, including right here in Cook County. She said there is a need for workers in direct care, in dietary and housekeeping, etc.

“If anyone has ever had an interest in health care, now would be a great time,” said Wraalstad.

There is training available for some positions locally. Wraalstad encouraged anyone interested in working in the medical field, to make a difference in the lives of others, to consider entering the medical field. Anyone who would like to learn more about positions at North Shore Health, visit the North Shore Health website or call the hospital’s human resources department at 218-387-3796.

WTIP’s Rhonda Silence checked in North Shore Health CEO Kimber Wraalstad on December 6 to learn more.