Not All Workers in Health-Related Services Covered by New State COVID Vaccine Mandate


The state estimates about 400,000 licensed private-sector health care workers could be affected by Monday's new COVID-19 vaccine mandate for state workers and health care workers.

Even at that, some workers in health-related fields will not be covered.

According to Mike Faulk, deputy communications director for the Governor's Office, exemptions beyond ones tied to the mandates (medical and religious) will apply.

"We are exempting home care, home health and home hospice workers," he wrote via email in response to questions Monday from The News Tribune. "But individual providers providing health care, rather than personal care, would still be covered. For example, a physical therapist providing health care in the home would be included."

That came as a disappointment to Janice Graham, 85, of Midland, who'd notified The News Tribune in July of problems she'd had in finding vaccinated home-care workers for herself after a recent round of health issues.

She wanted to share her experience after reading The News Tribune's coverage of lack of requirements at that time for area medical workers.

That part of the story has since changed, with MultiCare, Kaiser Permanente and Virginia Mason Franciscan Health all announcing vaccine mandates for staff last week, ahead of the state's new mandates announced Monday.

Graham noted that home care aides also treat a vulnerable population who might not be able to be vaccinated because of existing medical issues or are immunocompromised even with the vaccine.

She said she was vaccinated in early March.

"They're working with sick people, and they're going from house to house," she said.

Nationwide, there are an estimated 3.2 million home health and personal care aides, with an estimated 58,000 in Washington state, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

At the end of July, LeadingAge Washington, who represents nonprofit nursing homes and senior care facilities, endorsed COVID vaccine mandates to boost the safety of senior populations.

"LeadingAge Washington urges all senior care organizations to adopt mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies for all essential workers, unless medical or religious grounds exist for an exception."

In an emailed statement accompanying that decision, Deb Murphy, president and CEO of LeadingAge Washington, said in July: "We will continue to push the state to mandate vaccination across all health care workers so there is less opportunity to job hop to non-mandatory settings and because it is critical that we maintain an essential health care workforce. Vaccination is the most effective strategy and it is scientifically proven to be safe for the vast majority of individuals."

While Graham was happy to hear about the mandates for health workers, "they should go together," she said, referring to home care aides.

"Maybe it's coming if more people complain about it. People like me, we just assume that they would be vaccinated."

Gov. Jay Inslee, in remarks Monday, said the mandates could serve as a model for other entities.

"There are about 400,000 licensed health care providers in the state of Washington who potentially could be affected by this," he said. "So this is a significant number of folks, but we hope this will serve as a beacon for other employers public and private."

That would benefit people like Graham.

She said that when she told the home care provider agency she only wanted vaccinated workers in her home, "they acted like I was being unreasonable in my request," she said.

She said suffered some lack of service as a result, losing her bath aide.

"The nurse that came was vaccinated, but that's because of my insisting," she said.

Graham said she finally confronted a company representative who came to observe a care session by showing her a news clipping that encouraged asking for vaccine status when encountering health workers.

"I had put that on my refrigerator. I took it off and showed her, and she didn't look happy about it," she said.

Graham told The News Tribune on Monday her home care sessions are over, and that a recent trip to MultiCare's Tacoma General Hospital was a better experience than the home health care battles she'd fought earlier in the summer.

"My nurses were all vaccinated. I felt good about that."