Agencies losing staff who won’t get vaccine

Some employees may leave their jobs because they won’t comply with the governor’s vaccination mandate.

As many as 30 employees of the WhidbeyHealth hospital district, a half-dozen firefighters and 19 school employees on the island may leave their jobs because they won’t comply with the governor’s vaccination mandate.

Gov. Jay Inslee’s mandate affects state workers, school employees and those in health care, among others. It requires the workers to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18, which means they need to get a second dose of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the Johnson & Johnson shot by Oct. 4 or have an acceptable exemption.

Conor O’Brien, marketing manager for the hospital, explained that leaders are preparing for 30 vaccine-related departures on Oct. 18, though documentation submission and verification is ongoing. He said officials are hopeful that the final number of people leaving will be less than 20.

The mandate applies to the entire WhidbeyHealth organization, from doctors to administrators to custodians. The departure of 30 employees would represent about 3% of the entire hospital district’s staff.

A man who spoke at the Oak Harbor City Council meeting Tuesday night shared that two of his friends, both firefighters, would be out of a job soon because they refused to take the COVID-19 vaccine on religious grounds.

The Oak Harbor Fire Department will be down by a total of six people, according to Fire Chief Ray Merrill. One career firefighter and five paid-on-call firefighters will be leaving. One EMT has already left because he did not want to get the COVID vaccine.

South Whidbey Fire/EMS Chief Rusty Palmer said there were only two people with religious exemptions from the vaccine in the department. He admitted the agency may lose a volunteer or two because they have not responded yet about their vaccination status and will be terminated if they do not respond by the deadline.

Palmer said three people have reported that they will not get the vaccine but, since they are not medical staff, they can continue working as firefighters only.

Officials from North Whidbey Fire and Rescue and Central Whidbey Fire and Rescue did not respond by press time.

Oak Harbor Public Schools Communications Officer Conor Laffey said that 90% of staff has been vaccinated. Most of the remaining 10% has submitted a religious or medical exemption from the mandate, except for 19 people who have submitted neither. He said that some of those people may still be in the process of submitting one.

Both the Coupeville and South Whidbey school district superintendents said they expected 100% compliance with the vaccine mandate and had not heard of any refusals among staff.

Reporters Kira Erickson and Jessie Stensland contributed to this story.