Commission declares state of emergency to buck vaccine mandate
Mandates by Gov. Kate Brown and the Oregon Health Authority that health care workers, school employees, state employees and others show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a documented exception by Oct. 18 to continue working, has some counties and municipalities pushing back.
On Sept. 16 Yamhill County joined that growing list.
The Yamhill County Board of Commissioners voted 2-1 to declare a state of emergency "due to the immediately foreseeable lack of adequate resources to deliver basic health, safety and emergency services."
The commissioners voting in favor of the resolution, chairwoman Mary Starrett and Lindsay Berschauer, argued that implementation of the state mandates will unduly impact several sectors.
"The board of commissioners requests that state of Oregon immediately withdraw its vaccine mandates to prevent further exhaustion and departure of providers of core public services — including first responders , health care providers, educators and related staff, emergency service providers and public safety providers — who are essential for the safety and well-being of Oregonians living in, visiting and traveling through Yamhill County," the resolution says, adding that it will remain in force until the end of the year unless the board finds that emergency conditions no longer exist.
The board of commissioners was following the lead of five other counties (as of Sept. 16) that have adopted similar emergency declarations, Starrett said. She added that she took an informal survey of schools, hospitals, fire departments and other agencies in the county "just to get an idea at what we are looking at regarding potential staffing issues."
The survey indicated that many workers will "walk off the job" rather than adhere to the vaccine mandate, she found.
Berschauer said she also had been in discussions with fire districts in Amity, Sheridan and Dayton, as well as a Life Flight helicopter pilot, and heard similar sentiments on what response implementation of the mandates would be.
"We're going to be at a crisis level if this (mandate) continues because we have firefighters and volunteers, especially volunteers, who have said 'we're not going to comply with this; we'll just walk away,'" she said.
Cassandra Ulven, public affairs chief at Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue -- which covers Newberg -- said that agency has seen a generally positive respond among its firefighters, paramedics, volunteer and staff who are licensed emergency medical provers. TVF&R is requiring that those individuals submit proof of vaccination or an exception request by the Oct. 18 deadline.
"Since more than 80% of our affected personnel have already been vaccinated, we don't expect there will be significant impact on our ability to maintain normal staffing and deployment as a result of the vaccine mandate," she said. "Additionally, we have contingency plans to ensure wre are able to provide reliable service to our communities, including Newberg."
Commissioner Casey Kulla, the lone nay vote on the resolution, asked that Starrett and Berschauer share their lists of correspondence with agencies, the numbers they provided, staffing and the effects the mandates will have with him and constituents before the commission rendered a decision.
"I don't think that one, this (emergency declaration) is an appropriate tool, and two, I think that it's premature even if it was an appropriate tool," Kulla said, adding that he hasn't seen data that the county's core functions will be impacted by the governor's edict. "I don't see this as something that is going to impact us right now."
Starrett agreed to share the data but forged forward with voting on the resolution Thursday. "I don't think you would be voting in the affirmative," she said, adding it would make little sense to delay the vote because they need to make it immediately clear to the state that it should rescind the mandate. "I think we're already seeing the wheels come off this thing, and we better do what we can to protect our county."
Kulla countered that the information he has received concerning staffing shortages are due, at least in part, to people who have contracted COVID-19 or who have been quarantined after being exposed to somebody with the virus.
County Counsel Christian Boenisch said the declaration would allow the county to coordinate coverage of staffing issues, marshaling of resources, "making sure folks are connected and communicating" and ensuring that funds are available to address the emergency.
"But what this emergency declaration is also doing is asking the governor to change her mandate, which presumably would lessen the risk of this emergency situation occurring," he said.
Sgt. Brian Young, emergency manager for the Yamhill County Sheriff's Office, said there are entities that are not beneath the county's umbrella — including school districts, hospitals and fire departments — and he doesn't know what resources they have in place to adhere to the mandate as that information hasn't been communicated to him yet.
He added that his department will take any requests or orders from the board of commissioners and forward them to the state "to basically ask them to fill that resource," perhaps via increased deployments of National Guard troops. Soldiers already have been deployed to hospitals in the region, including Providence Newberg Medical Center, to provide nonmedical aid as COVID-19 cases increase throughout the country.
PNMC spokesman Mike Antrim says it's too early to gauge whether medical center personnel will adhere to the vaccine mandate or if the facility will need additional assistance as virus cases increase.
"We are working to implement the vaccine mandate and are currently working through the logistics with our caregivers," he said, adding that the health care system is urging vaccination for everyone who is eligible. "Until we work through that process, we won't know whether any caregivers will choose to leave the organization. We are working to minimize the impact on our workforce and we are confident that Providence is well positioned to continue serving the needs of our community."
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