GRANGEVILLE — “It’s a difficult discussion, but I think we need to be honest and straightforward, but cautious,” Syringa Hospital Board Chair Leta Strauss said at the Aug. 24 meeting.
Board members spent time discussing COVID-19 and where they stand, as a whole board, on the vaccination issue.
Strauss said during the past year it has often felt like the community — including the board — is living in a bubble.
“Some people didn’t even know we had any COVID deaths in our community,” she continued. “I know we cannot force-feed information, but, as elected officials, I believe we have the responsibility to show leadership and work to keep our community safe.”
CEO Abner King emphasized Grangeville and the surrounding communities will “definitely be affected by what is happening with all the hospitals around us.”
“Larger hospitals, such as ones in Boise, are getting calls from out of the area, even out of state, with requests to transfer patients in,” he said. “This isn’t just COVID patients, it’s those with heart attacks, strokes and for other reasons.”
Board member Joe Cladouhos said given increases in the Delta variant and the number of current cases, it is appropriate for the board to take some action.
“I do not agree with anyone who says [the vaccination] is a personal decision,” he stated. He cited smoking in public and wearing seat belts as laws that have become normalized because, in part, of the potential impact on the lives of others.
“All of our [Syringa] physicians and mid-levels received the vaccination months ago. Who are we to go against medical advice?” he questioned.
King stated about 45 percent of Syringa employees have been vaccinated, as well as about 28 percent of Idaho County as a whole.
Cladouhos made a motion to ask all employees to be vaccinated by Oct. 1, and if they choose not to do so, undergo testing at least twice a month. The motion was seconded; however, it was later tabled until next month’s meeting following further discussion.
Cladouhos said he felt it was important to get the [testing] data and “see what’s out there.”
“And it might encourage some to get the vaccine,” with the bottom line being patient protection, he added.
Trustee Barbara Essen said she worries a mandate would cause a staff shortage, as well as put a burden on the remaining staff.
Strauss said though she doesn’t necessarily want to see an employee mandate for the vaccine, she knows there is a set standard of care for everything and, “we do not want our employees to be carriers.”
“We realize people around here do not like things shoved down their throats,” Dr. Matthew Told interjected. He said he would suggest greater emphasis on mask wearing and hand washing, “as we know these safety measures do help prevent the spread of germs.”
Told added that COVID is a virus and “we don’t always push vaccines for viruses. In this area, it just makes more sense to push good hygiene and mask wearing.”
Strauss questioned if they are asking employees to do more to protect the public than the public is willing to do to protect themselves and others.
“The community [as a whole] has not stepped up to get the vaccine, which would stop this [COVID] in its tracks,” she stated, adding she does know there are many different reasons people do not want to get vaccinated.
Trustee Jim Liddell said, in his opinion, the national message on the vaccination is “poor.”
“I came to the conclusion, for me, personally, there is a risk, but I weighed it and made the choice to be vaccinated,” he said. “If we do not acknowledge the risk, then the whole vaccination message loses credibility.”