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Unvaccinated staff at North Shore Health no longer allowed to work after Dec. 6

More than a dozen employees at North Shore Health in Grand Marais will no longer be allowed to work at the local healthcare facility if they opt to remain unvaccinated following requirements that go into effect in early December.

“If an employee in a healthcare organization says I don’t want to be vaccinated, and I don’t have a medical reason, and it’s really not religious, I just don’t want to do it, then their decision is they don’t want to work in healthcare,” said North Shore Health Administrator Kimber Wraalstad, “or at least any healthcare that accepts Medicare and Medicaid funds.”

The Biden-Harris Administration is requiring COVID-19 vaccination of eligible staff at health care facilities that participate in the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

Facilities covered by this regulation, including North Shore Health in Grand Marais, must establish a policy ensuring all eligible staff have received the first dose of a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine or a one-dose COVID-19 vaccine prior to providing any care, treatment, or other services by Dec 6.

The regulation also provides for exemptions based on recognized medical conditions or religious beliefs, observances, or practices.

The same guidelines apply for Sawtooth Mountain Clinic in Grand Marais. Kate Surbaugh, the CEO of the local healthcare facility, said the rate of vaccination for clinic staff is 98 percent heading into the Dec. 6 mandate. This figure represents a significantly smaller sum than those staff who remain unvaccinated at North Shore Health. As of Nov. 22, the regulation would impact 14 workers at North Shore Health, according to Wraalstad.

The prevalence of COVID-19, in particular the delta variant, within health care settings increases the risk of unvaccinated staff contracting the virus and transmitting the virus to patients. When health care staff cannot work because of illness or exposure to COVID-19, the strain on the health care system becomes more severe and further limits patient access to safe and essential care, according to CMS.

These requirements will apply to approximately 76,000 providers and cover over 17 million health care workers across the country. The regulation will create a consistent standard within Medicare and Medicaid while giving patients assurance of the vaccination status of those delivering care, CMS said in a statement released earlier this month.

WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs spoke with Wraalstad about this situation and other healthcare news heading into the holiday season. Audio below.

Note: This story was updated at 3:13 p.m. on Nov. 22 to include the information about Sawtooth Mountain Clinic.