Unfortunately, 18 months after the pandemic began, we are still asking health care workers to be heroes. Fortunately, they keep answering the call.

Despite worries that Gov. Janet Mills’ vaccine mandate for care settings would leave hospitals and nursing and group homes unable to function, the deadline passed last Friday with only a relative few workers refusing to get the vaccine in order to keep their jobs.

The vast majority of health care workers will stay on, continuing to do the great job they’ve been doing all along. In cases where the ability to deliver care may be compromised by the loss of workers, providers and state officials have worked to lessen the impact.

Thanks to the state mandate, hospitals, and nursing and group homes are much safer, for their workers and the people they care for. It was the right decision from Gov. Mills.

But it’s the doctors, nurses, aides and others who will make it work.

Not that it won’t be a challenge. At MaineGeneral in Augusta, 191 employees, or about 4% of its workforce, have left or been fired as a result of the mandate, the Kennebec Journal reported Monday. In both the MaineHealth and Northern Light Health systems, 2% or less of the workforce lost their jobs, while Central Maine Healthcare lost about 5% of its workers.

That’s not a lot. But given the hiring challenges present in the Maine health care sector even before COVID ripped through it, the losses will have an impact. CMMC has cut back on services, though the other hospitals say they are prepared.

MaineGeneral, for instance, has expanded its training and hiring program, and has started a new initiative to fill gaps in the hospital workforce with experienced members of the community. One group home operator said it worked with the state to change a policy in order to cover shifts more efficiently, allowing the operator to scrap a plan to cut back.

A lot has been made of Mills’ choice to enforce the mandate. But the health care workers leaving the field also made a choice.

Some left in no small part because health care is tough work that has become a lot tougher because of COVID, with the pay no longer justifying the job.

But many, most perhaps, left because they were unwilling to receive a vaccine not unlike the others they already are mandated to get as health care workers.

That new vaccine has been given without complications to hundreds of thousands of Mainers and billions of people worldwide. It has proved effective in preventing both infection and severe disease.

Yet still some would rather quit their job than get the vaccine, even after seeing how the latest surge, driven almost wholly by the unvaccinated, filled hospitals, exhausted staff, and put anyone who needs care at risk.

That’s their choice, and they are free to make it — there are plenty of other places to work where their vaccination status won’t put vulnerable people at risk.

But, thankfully, they are in the minority. Most health care workers are fine with using every tool available to keep patients safe.

But just as they’ve dealt with the fallout from every other pandemic-related mistake — an unprepared government and a lack of protective gear, the refusal of so many to wear masks, even denial of the virus itself — health care workers still on the job will deal with this one, too.

They’ll be heroes again, if only because they have to be.


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