Amidst an ongoing staffing shortage, Kittitas Valley Healthcare staff are working diligently to accommodate staffing needs to fill empty shifts.

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As COVID vaccination mandates become a reality for the healthcare profession this fall, Kittitas Valley Healthcare is working rapidly to ensure that all employees are accounted for and have a plan moving forward.

As the mandate was announced, KVH CEO Julie Petersen said the system identified approximately 160 employees out of a total of approximately 680 whose vaccination status was unknown.

“It wasn’t that they were unvaccinated, it was simply that we didn’t know,” she said.

Petersen said the staff was immediately able to clear approximately 60 of the employees in question, then setting out to verify the status of the other 100. She said the hospital is very fortunate in that they have a strong toolset at their disposal in the form of a robust human resources department.

“Human resources began communicating with folks,” she said. “There are medical accommodations that be made, as well as sincerely-held religious accommodations that can be made.”

As they began to work through the last 100, Petersen said HR staff still have 10 employees who they haven’t heard an answer from, and a total of six employees ho will be resigning in the wake of the mandate.

“We have all but 10 accounted for,” she said.


Amidst the ongoing staffing shortages, KVH dodged a bullet in the number of employees that decided to resign in the wake of the impending mandate. The relatively positive news of only six employees resigning does not help the existing issue regarding staffing at the hospital, however. Petersen said hospital staff is working together to ensure that all voices are being heard as the mandate becomes a reality.

“I think part of the conversation we’re having every day at Kittitas Valley Healthcare is that we’re not dealing with a statewide issue,” she said. “We’re dealing with the employee across the table from us. We know people are very emotional about the mandate having to get the vaccine. These are one-on-one interactive conversations, and the KVH team is an overall incredible team. We’re very respectful, and we know this is a very tough thing to deal with, so we’re getting through this one person at a time.”

As part of ongoing safety measures, Petersen said hospital employees who receive an accommodation that allows them to not receive a vaccine, those that work with patients on a daily basis will be asked to take a PCR test twice a week at no charge. Those who don’t work with the public will be asked to test weekly, also at no charge.

Over the next few weeks, Petersen the hospital board will be strategizing on how to address the issue of burnout within the ranks.

“The fact is that there’s not a magic bullet in terms of employee morale and energy,” she said. “We’re doing everything we can to support our employees.”

As cases waned during the summer, Petersen said hospital staff had expanded chances to utilize vacation time.

“We got as many people away for vacations as we could,” she said. “We understand that kids are going back to school this week, which is an added stress on parents, as well as general uncertainty about what’s happening with (case) volumes here.”

As COVID transmission within the county intensifies, Petersen said it is important to note that hospital capacities are being maxed out, but not because of a shortage of available beds.

“We’re full because we don’t have the staff to care for patients that would be in the beds,” she said. “We have a six-bed critical care unit that can accept five patients right now. If we had the staff, we would be able to accept the sixth patient.”

Petersen said the hospital is receiving some relief in the form of traveling RNs who have been hired to cover some of the floating night shifts.

“We have staff from our surgical outpatient area who are floating over to help out in med surge so the med surge nurses can go to work in critical care,” she said. “If they’re not taking care of patients, our family workplace nurses will float over and help out as well. Nursing and taking care of patients is a team sport right now, and KVH is just an extraordinary team. It’s clearly an all-hands-on-deck kind of activity right now.”

With the all-hands ideology working at full steam, Petersen said the mission extends to all employees, not just those that work directly with patients.

“Folks like myself who don’t have a place at the bedside are volunteering in the COVID testing clinic,” she said. “We have some of our recruiters and HR folks going out and helping at the testing clinic and helping out where we can so those licensed caregivers are able to work closer to the bedside.”

Reporting for the DR since March 2018. Lover of campfires, black labs and good vibes. Proud Humboldt State alum!


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