Hilltop is at a crossroads in our COVID response. Our assisted living programs continue to face the challenges of constant testing, staff shortages, and cycling in and out of outbreak status. Throughout Hilltop, 85% of COVID related work absences are coming from unvaccinated staff, and we are starting to see an effect on the quality of our care to residents and participants.
I have held many long and difficult conversations with Hilltop leadership reflecting on the recent vaccination survey, our current staffing challenges and the resulting impact it has on our quality of care. While there is no easy solution, it is clear we can and must do more to protect our residents and employees.
On Friday, many health care organizations here in Mesa County, including St. Mary’s, Community Hospital, Family Health West, and WestSprings, announced their own COVID vaccine protocols for staff. This naturally led to the great question, “What is Hilltop going to do?” and the answer has many layers and implications.
To be as transparent as possible, I want to share where we are today and what still needs to be determined prior to a detailed implementation. We have been working independently from the recent announcements to determine what is appropriate for Hilltop and are actively planning our own vaccine protocols for employees.
Currently, COVID vaccines are the most effective tool available to stem this pandemic and as a company we continue to hover just over a 50% vaccination rate. We fully expect the COVID vaccine will be granted full FDA approval in the near future and that the State of Colorado will enact vaccine protocols for licensed facilities. This was made even more clear today with the following press release: Governor Polis Urges State Board of Health to Engage in Expedited Rulemaking to Require COVID-19 Vaccine for All Personnel Working Directly with Colorado’s Vulnerable Populations & Settings Where Coloradans Receive Essential Medical Care.
These factors, along with the long-term effect COVID is having on our assisted living programs, have influenced us to begin preparing protocols to require new and existing assisted living and Senior Daybreak employees to receive a COVID vaccine as a condition of employment. The protocols will be similar to the long-standing flu shot requirement which has been present in our assisted living facilities for years.
Specific details yet to be determined include:
- Our process for new hires. (addressing flu, TB and COVID)
- Our timeframe for full implementation. (We are currently planning on attaching a timeframe to the final FDA approval; however, state licensing mandates may supersede that option.)
- Our policy for determining medical exemptions.
- Which ancillary employees will be required to be vaccinated.
- The level of impact and possible protocols for all Hilltop programs.
Please know I have heard the passionate responses from Hilltoppers on both sides of this issue, and this is one of the hardest decisions I’ve made as CEO of Hilltop. I am aware this decision will affect each of us differently and would ask any of you thinking about your future with Hilltop to allow us to fully create the plan, so any decision you make is sufficiently, and accurately, informed.
In the final analysis, I believe Hilltop can most effectively improve the quality of care we provide our most vulnerable residents and participants through this effort. I know this is a complicated issue and can feel divisive; I encourage you to reach out to your management team with any questions or concerns. Information about the vaccine and convenient ways to receive it will be offered at our tent testing site. The first opportunity to take advantage of the mobile vaccine van will be Monday, August 23rd from 1:00 to 3:00 pm.
As we’ve already shown, the best way to weather theses constant changes is by staying strong together.