(KCAW/Berett Wilber)

Employees of the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium must be vaccinated for COVID by June 30, or risk losing their jobs. The Tribal health consortium operates hospitals in Sitka and  Wrangell, and clinics in Haines, Juneau, and many smaller communities throughout Southeast. SEARHC staff and contractors were notified of the policy in late May.

According to the policy, all SEARHC employees must receive their first shot or single dose coronavirus vaccine by June 30. Those opting for a two-dose vaccine must receive the second shot by July 31. 

It’s in step with a growing trend. In recent weeks hospitals across the country have begun mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for employees. 

In an email to all SEARHC staff and contractors dated May 24, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Elliot Bruhl wrote, “The health of our patients and communities is our top priority and an ongoing concern with the pandemic.”

“Similar to our policy for employees and contractors being vaccinated for influenza, it will now be required for our Consortium’s staff, external providers, students and contractors to have their COVID-19 vaccine,” he continued.

Employees who choose not to be vaccinated will be considered “voluntarily separated” from employment with SEARHC. 

Read the full vaccination policy here

Those who wish to opt out can follow SEARHC’s standard policy for medical and religious exceptions. Those who are pregnant or breastfeeding, have a history of anaphylaxis or allergy to the vaccine, or oppose vaccinations based on religious grounds may choose to opt out. But they must provide documentation and receive a formal exception.

KCAW reached out to Dr. Bruhl and SEARHC personnel for comment. In an email to KCAW, spokesperson Maegan Bosak said, “Over 98% of SEARHC employees are compliant with the vaccination policy.” That figure includes SEARHC staff who sought a vaccine exception through SEARHC’s process.

SEARHC is Sitka’s primary health provider, and has been instrumental in getting the majority of Sitkans vaccinated quickly this spring. At least 71 percent of Sitkan’s eligible population has received at least one dose of vaccine, according to city data (6-11-21).

Editor’s Note: This story was updated on 6-30-21 to include additional information provided by SEARHC about compliance to the Consortium’s vaccination policy.