Oregon Vaccination Mandate for Health Care Personnel
Temporary Rule Background and Implementation
Published 8/24/21, Last updated 9/09/21
In recent weeks, Oregon has experienced the highest surge of COVID-19 infection since the original state of emergency was declared in March 2020. Largely due to the highly contagious Delta variant, infection rates among mostly unvaccinated individuals have led to a tragic and deadly public health crisis.
In an effort to protect health care providers, personnel, and patients, as well as safeguard dwindling statewide hospital capacity, the state has asked the health care community to help with vaccination, once again.
Parallel with the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) full approval of the Pfizer vaccine, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) published a more stringent, temporary vaccination rule for health care workers effective August 25, 2021, through January 31, 2022. Below is more information about this rule, as well as guidance on the implementation process.
Overview of the Rule
Oregon Administrative Rule 333-019-1010 is an emergency temporary rule that will expire on January 31, 2022, unless it is made permanent. The rule requires health care providers and staff to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by October 18, 2021. Health care workers who are not fully vaccinated by this date, must provide documentation of a medical or religious exception in order to continue working in a health care setting. Similarly, an employer may not employ a health care provider or staff in a health care setting unless they have documented proof of vaccination or an exception. The rule carries civil monetary penalties for employers who do not comply.
To begin implementing a rule like this, it is important to communicate and set expectations among those who are impacted (e.g., staff), as well as document the work you do toward becoming compliant. Below is more information about implementation broken down into three phases: planning, testing, and operations.
To begin the planning phase, employers should pull together a team to review the rule and begin drafting policies. Be sure to alert your employees of the rule itself, as well as the work you are doing to draft policies in order to comply with the rule. As an employer, you may want to invite internal or external feedback about elements of the rule that may be confusing or challenging. No firm decisions need to be made in this phase, but again, key dates should be communicated such as the October 18, 2021, operational date, and other useful dates. For example, September 13, 2021, appears to be the latest date someone could start the first dose of a two-dose vaccine like Pfizer’s and be fully vaccinated under the rule (which says 14 days after the last required dose of a COVID-19 vaccine).
This will be the most challenging phase given the short time frame set for the operational date. Here, employers should have temporary policies drafted and some initial decisions made about how to process exception requests under the rule. Monitoring potential rule changes, FAQs, and other industry efforts will be useful in tailoring and updating policies. Your team should keep meeting and document its progress with planning and testing.
While you are allowed to begin implementing the rule before the October 18 operational date, you may want to aim to meet the rule’s documentation requirements at least a week before. A clear human resources challenge, additional staff time may be needed to post employer policies about the rule, answer employee questions about those policies, document proof of vaccination, process exception requests, and take any action necessary in response to exception requests.
Unfortunately, there is no one-size fits all for compliance with a rule. Each employer needs to tailor their efforts at implementing the rule to their setting and the needs of their patients and workforce. Below are additional resources to assist with implementation. Also, OMA’s Knowledge Center staff are available to field questions and connect members and their practice locations with additional resources such as human resource consultants or legal counsel.
As with most new rules, there will be challenges with implementation. The health care community in general is suffering from a severe shortage of providers and staff. The OMA continually is working alongside health care partners in communicating issues to OHA as they arise and is requesting as much detail as possible. Please check back regularly for updates.