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St. Charles drops COVID-19 vaccination requirement for workers, if they get exemption, wear N95 mask

KTVZ file

Says updated policy is tied to how pandemic, guidance has evolved

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- St. Charles Health System said Thursday it is now allowing unvaccinated people who get a medical or religious exception to Oregon’s vaccine mandate to provide direct care if they wear a N95 or higher filtering respirator "or other reasonable accommodation to the extent applicable."

“With the use of this type of personal protective equipment, we believe we are taking reasonable steps to ensure unvaccinated providers and staff are protected from contracting and spreading COVID-19 to coworkers, patients and visitors in a manner consistent with state and federal mandates,” said Joan Ching, St. Charles’ chief nursing executive.  

When unvaccinated employees are in a St. Charles health care setting but are not rendering direct patient care, they will be expected to wear a medical-grade procedure mask, the announcement said. Masks can be removed to eat in a break room, but physical distance of 6 feet or more is expected to be maintained. 

St. Charles’ infectious disease subject matter experts, who convene regularly to review the latest scientific literature and the organization’s internal policies, recently concluded that because of revised CDC guidance, the prevalence of COVID-19 in the community, the severity of the current strains of COVID-19, availability of personal protective equipment, COVID-19 treatment options and immunity levels in the community, the health system could make reasonable accommodations that allow unvaccinated people who apply for and receive a medical or religious exception to work in a St. Charles health care setting. 

“As the pandemic evolves, it is important that St. Charles evolve with it,” Ching said. “We believe we’re now in a place where we can reasonably allow unvaccinated people to work in a health care setting —without putting others at significant risk — if they wear a N95 respirator.” 

Unvaccinated people who were previously granted an exception but could not be reasonably accommodated in a St. Charles health care setting are invited to apply for available positions for which they are qualified, the health system said. St. Charles will use its regular hiring practices to assess re-employment, as well as wages and benefits for successful candidates.

New candidates interested in working for St. Charles who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will be given the opportunity to apply for a medical or religious exception, as allowed by the Oregon state mandate, which remains in effect.  

“To be clear, we believe staying current on your vaccination series remains the very best way to protect yourself from the virus,” said Dr. Cynthia Maree, medical director of infection prevention. “The data tell us that staying current on recommended boosters prevents infection, severe disease and death. The bivalent COVID-19 vaccine is now available and is designed to provide broad protection against the Omicron variant. We strongly encourage people to talk to their health care provider about receiving it.” 

About St. Charles Health System 

St. Charles Health System, Inc., headquartered in Bend, Ore., owns and operates St. Charles Bend, Madras, Prineville and Redmond. It also owns family care clinics in Bend, La Pine, Madras, Prineville, Redmond and Sisters. St. Charles is a private, not-for-profit Oregon corporation and is the largest employer in Central Oregon with more than 4,500 caregivers. In addition, there are more than 350 active medical staff members and nearly 200 visiting medical staff members who partner with the health system to provide a wide range of care and service to our communities. 

Article Topic Follows: Coronavirus

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