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Legislators ask why HHSC has delayed mandatory vaccinations

Three state lawmakers sent a letter Thursday to the Hawaii Health Systems Corporation requesting information about its decision to delay implementation of mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations until the vaccines have been fully approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Admin-istration.

The letter from Senate Human Services Committee Chairwoman Joy San Buenaventura, a Democrat who represents Puna and Ka‘u, Senate Health Committee Chairman Jarrett Keohokalole, and House Health, Human Services and Homelessness Chairman Ryan Yamane, both Oahu Democrats, is addressed to Dr. Linda Rosen, HHSC’s president and CEO. It comes at a time when many state medical facilities, including Hilo Medical Center, are struggling to deal with the rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations.

“The surge in COVID-19
activity in Hawaii over the last several weeks is deeply troubling,” the letter states. “Considering the sweeping change in policy taking place among so many large organizations — and the disturbing rise in cases locally — the public deserves to know what you see that so many of our public health and medical experts do not.”

The three legislators also express in the letter that safe access to treatment at facilities is of paramount interest to their constituents.

“For many of our communities, you are our only point of access to health care,” the letter said. “The need for vigilance in preventing COVID-19 spread in our public facilities was highlighted last year by clusters in several of our jails and tragically, the Yukio Okutso State Veteran’s Home, where 27 residents died. While we understand that you share in that belief, we ask that you clarify your reasoning on this policy.”

The letter is in response to an Aug. 2 statement by HHSC in response to Healthcare Association of Hawaii and major hospitals announcing COVID mandates for employees.

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, our hospitals have worked closely with the Healthcare Association of Hawaii and other acute hospitals and long-term care facilities in the state to provide a uniform response to the pandemic,” the HHSC statement said. “There is clear consensus that the best way to treat and manage this pandemic is through vaccinations. As the ‘safety net’ for neighbor island acute care and for long-term care in the State of Hawaii, Hawaii Health Systems Corporation supports the consensus statement of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii to require health care workers to be fully vaccinated upon full FDA approval of the vaccine.

“We are assessing the necessary steps that will be required to ensure that all legal and contractual obligations are met prior to implementing a mandate.”

The three vaccines being administered in the U.S. were granted emergency use authorizations by the FDA.

Gov. David Ige announced on Aug. 5 that state and county employees either have to be vaccinated against the novel coronavirus or be subject to regular testing.

HHSC — which includes Hilo Medical Center, Hale Ho‘ola Hamakua, Ka‘u Hospital, Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home, Kona Community Hospital, Kohala Hospital, Kona Ambulatory Surgery Center, and Ali‘i Health Center on Hawaii Island — is partially funded by the state, but is exempted by state law from certain laws that apply to other state agencies, according to the HHSC website.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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