Tens of thousands of Washington home workers not covered by the state’s immunization mandate

In August, Gov. Jay Inslee announced that state employees and health and long-term care workers should be fully immunized by October 18, or face dismissal.

Governor’s Office /

As the deadline for Governor Jay Inslee’s Oct. 18 immunization mandate approaches, more than 800,000 state employees, health and long-term care workers, and people working in institutions teachers must prove they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 – or risk losing their jobs.

But a large sector of caregivers is explicitly exempted. The governor’s August 9 proclamation carved out approximately 46,000 home care workers who are represented by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

These are people paid by the state to care for elderly or disabled clients or their family members at home.

Inslee’s proclamation specifically stated that individual providers, as they are called, are not considered health care providers for the purposes of the immunization mandate.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Inslee called it a “difficult decision” to exempt home care workers, but defended the exclusion as necessary to reflect the unique nature of the workforce. of work.

“One of the main reasons is that many of our home care providers provide personal care services to family members,” said Tara Lee, director of communications for Inslee, in an email. “Staff determined that mandating vaccines within these family relationships would be difficult to implement, difficult for family relationships, and potentially difficult to monitor and enforce. “

Additionally, Lee said, there were concerns that if an individual provider refused to be vaccinated, it would leave their client without care and could force them into a facility.

“Many people receiving care at home have only one caregiver and if that person is no longer available, they have no other option,” said Lee.

A similar exemption was made for child care providers of family, friends and neighbors, Lee noted.

On Tuesday, a spokesperson for SEIU 775, the union that represents home care workers in Washington, estimated that more than 70% of its members have already received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

“We are not against a vaccination mandate, although there are real challenges in how you will implement it,” said Adam Glickman, union secretary-treasurer.

Glickman was unable to provide data on how many union members or their clients have contracted COVID-19 or have died from the virus since the start of the pandemic.

However, according to the Department of Health and Social Services (DSHS), there have been 2,668 confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 among home customers. Data on deaths were not immediately available.

In theory, the risk of transmission of COVID-19 is lower for someone receiving care at home than for people living in collective care facilities, such as nursing homes, where staff and visitors come and go. and the virus can spread quickly once introduced.

To date, long-term care facilities have reported 2,865 deaths representing 39% of COVID-19 deaths in Washington, according to the Washington Department of Health.

Inslee, a Democrat, issued his mandate in August amid an unprecedented “explosion” of COVID-19 cases, fueled by the highly contagious delta variant. At the time, he said that the obligation to get vaccinated was necessary to “save lives” and protect “vulnerable communities”.

While exempting individual providers, the governor’s vaccine requirement defined broad healthcare parameters to include psychiatric offices, mobile health clinics, and massage therapy centers in spas and fitness centers. .

Washington’s top Republican Senate John Braun called Inslee’s exemption for home health care workers “reasonable.” But warned that care facilities around the state are facing a staffing crisis because of the tenure.

“Healthcare workers have been heroes throughout the pandemic, regardless of their immunization status,” Braun said in a statement. “For some reason the governor thinks they can provide care today but not in 13 days. And that’s unreasonable.”

In an ongoing lawsuit challenging the vaccine’s mandate, some workers have argued that Inslee’s requirement to be vaccinated is unreasonably broad and inflexible.

For example, DSHS forensic assessor Elizabeth Bain wrote in a court statement dated September 16 that she had received a religious exemption but could not be accommodated by her agency despite being teleworked since 2014. .

Other complainants have warned of the risk of critical staff shortages in state prisons, the Washington State Patrol, and city fire departments if enough employees refuse to attend. get vaccinated and leave voluntarily or are made redundant.

For weeks, state agencies have been preparing contingency plans for widespread attrition.

As of September 20, 68 percent of state employees covered by the vaccination mandate had been verified as vaccinated. That number is expected to increase as the October 18 deadline approaches.

While home helpers are currently exempt from the warrant, Inslee’s office said on Tuesday that could change.

“The governor will take additional action if he thinks it is appropriate to save lives,” Lee said in his email.

Additionally, Lee said, home care workers in Washington may be subject to a requirement from the Biden administration that providers who receive Medicare and Medicaid dollars get vaccinated.

In the meantime, Lee said, the governor’s office “strongly recommends” that home care workers get vaccinated, even if they are not required to.

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