PORTLAND, Ore.) – Governor Kate Brown’s August COVID-19 vaccination mandate included common sense exemptions, as most other vaccination requirements have done, for medical reasons or for deeply held religious beliefs. Across the state, Oregon’s registered nurses have a high rate of vaccination (over 80%). However, it is also true that a small number of nurses have legitimate reasons for filing exemption requests. ONA believes that hospital systems must take these exemption requests seriously, as required by state and federal law.

At a time when hospitals are experiencing a serious staffing shortage it is crucial that health care systems do whatever is necessary to facilitate vaccination mandates while, at the same time, provide accommodation for those nurses and other staff who have received an exemption. 

Losing even a single nurse from our already strained health care system will simply make a bad situation worse. 
For example, nurses in the labor and delivery department at Legacy Silverton Hospital report that every religious exemption request, and a number of medical exemption requests, have been denied. We are told that 18 nurses, nearly half of the nursing staff in that department, are facing termination. ONA is seeing similar reports from other Legacy Silverton Hospital units, and we are hearing deep concern from nurses at Legacy facilities (not represented by ONA) in the Portland area.

Oregon’s vaccine mandate allows for medical and deeply held religious belief exemptions and blanket rejections are not only bad policy, but they also deepen staffing crises at hospitals across the state and ultimately impact quality of patient care.

Now is not the time for hospital systems like Legacy to play fast and loose with the legally required vaccination exemption process. 

ONA continues to work with our members across the state on a case by case, and unit by unit, basis to address nurse concerns and enforce our contracts. We encourage any nurse with concerns about a rejected exemption request to contact Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries, online at www.oregon.gov/BOLI, to submit a complaint. 

The Oregon Nurses Association (ONA) is Oregon’s largest and most influential nursing organization. We are a professional association and labor union which represents 15,000 nurses and allied health workers throughout the state. Our mission is to advocate for nursing, quality health care and healthy communities. For more information visit: www.OregonRN.org.