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Nearly 10% of Wyoming Banner employees haven't complied with vaccine requirement

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WMC

Wyoming Medical Center is the state's largest hospital. 

Banner Health, which operates four Wyoming hospitals including the state’s largest in Casper, could see nearly 10% of its employees terminated for failing to comply with a COVID-19 vaccine requirement, based on current numbers.

Mary Lynne Shickich, a Banner representative, told lawmakers Tuesday that 160 of the 1,629 employees Banner has in Wyoming had not been vaccinated and did not have an exemption.

In mid-July, the company announced being fully vaccinated would no longer be optional, but “a condition of employment” beginning Nov. 1. That announcement has been a focal point during the special legislative session that began this week, meant to challenge a federal vaccine mandate on businesses with 100 or more employees.

In testifying to the House Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee Tuesday, Schickich said the 160 employees will keep their jobs until the end of November.

The company has not decided on next steps for the Wyoming employees who have not been vaccinated, spokesperson Mandy Cepeda said via email.

“We will comply with any state rules regarding the mandate of vaccines. We will also comply with any federal rules, which may supersede state law,” she said, adding, “Our deadline has not passed yet and we’re still hopeful that all of our team members will come into compliance.”

It’s unclear how many Banner Wyoming employees have received exemptions to the policy. Shickich only provided that figure for Washakie Medical Center, at which 84 employees are vaccinated and 16 were granted exemptions.

When Shickich was asked for additional data, the request was referred to Cepeda, who said “we don’t have any additional numbers to release.”

The hospital was also asked by the Star-Tribune for a copy of a blank exemption request form. Cepeda denied the request, saying Banner does not publicly release internal documents.

Wyoming Medical Center CEO Lance Porter Tuesday told the committee that Casper’s hospital staff is 75% vaccinated. Among clinic staff outside of the hospital, that figure rises to 85%.

Porter maintained the need for a vaccine requirement, particularly as the state’s largest hospital routinely records record-high patient totals.

“The problem we face is when you are unvaccinated and you are exposed outside of work, you get COVID, you’re out of the fight,” he said.

The hospital was treating 206 total patients at one point last week, 42% of which had COVID-19.

He said some patients have asked to only be treated by vaccinated nurses, as the more contagious and more aggressive delta variant leaves more people severely ill.

“Banner is concerned about the high rate of COVID hospitalization and low rate of vaccination in the counties where it operates in Wyoming. This is putting significant strain on its Wyoming hospitals,” Cepeda later added.

Statewide, hospitalizations have soared despite the number of active cases declining.

Last week, Wyoming reported the most COVID-19 hospitalizations than at any point thus far in the pandemic, with 249 individuals being treated.

Several facilities have teetered into crisis standards of care, meaning they don’t have enough resources to treat the patients they have.

Twelve Wyoming hospitals Wednesday reported a critical staffing shortage to federal officials.

Some officials have said the shortage is brought on by employees testing positive or being exposed to the virus, and then being forced to quarantine and miss work. Others have claimed staff are leaving their jobs directly in response to vaccine requirements.

The Wyoming Hospital Association says the latter is clearly not having as large of an impact as some are claiming.

“People leaving because of a mandate is not the largest driver,” said Josh Hannes, spokesperson for the hospital association. “It’s not at all the biggest cause of challenges around staffing.”

Follow health and education reporter Morgan Hughes on Twitter @m0rgan_hughes

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Health and education reporter

Morgan Hughes covers health and education in Wyoming. After growing up in rural Wisconsin, she graduated from Marquette University in 2018. She moved to Wyoming shortly after and covered education in Cheyenne before joining the Star-Tribune in May 2019.

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