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Colorado ends vaccination mandate for healthcare workers, federal requirement still applies to most

The state's health department said the vaccination rate among healthcare workers increased from about 70% in August 2021, when the mandate was put in place, to 94%.

DENVER — The Colorado Board of Health allowed the state's COVID-19 vaccination requirement for healthcare workers to expire Thursday, but many facilities will still mandate vaccines under a federal order.

Representatives from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) asked the health board not to extend the requirement at a June meeting, citing a plateau in data that suggests workers who were going to get vaccinated had done so already. 

The state said data indicated 94% of healthcare workers had received the COVID-19 vaccine, up from approximately 70% when the mandate went into place in August 2021. 

The state said about a third of healthcare facilities will still require employees to get vaccinated under a federal rule that applies to workplaces that accept Medicare and Medicaid insurance. 

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CDPHE said roughly 1% of employees statewide quit over the mandate, but some rural hospitals are still dealing with the fallout.

"We've had to limit the number of people we can admit at any one time because we didn't have enough staff to staff those beds," Memorial Regional Health CEO Jennifer Riley said. Her Craig, Colo. facility in the far northwest corner of the state lost 30 employees because of the requirement, she said. 

"It made it just infinitely harder," Riley said. "This is a super conservative community who didn't really embrace the whole notion of COVID to begin with, and this made it just a million times worse." 

Overall, the exodus wasn't as bad at Rural Health Association as CEO Michelle Mills expected.

"I don't really think that has happened to the level we thought it would," Mills said. "A lot of our folks out in rural areas had religious exemptions or health exemptions so that was important to acknowledge." 

At Riley's hospital in Craig, a new class of nursing grads will soon help fill the ranks. Many of them were vaccinated as a requirement of enrollment in nursing school, she said. But Riley faces a new problem: confusion.

"It didn't change anything for us," Riley said of the state requirement's expiration. Her hospital employees are still mandated to have the vaccine because of the federal requirement. "It absolutely makes it more confusing," she said. 

RELATED: Some experts say warnings for new COVID-19 surge are 'too little, too late'

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