By CBS4 Political Specialist Shaun Boyd

DENVER (CBS4)– The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment says it will begin enforcing the state’s vaccine mandate for all health care workers starting Friday. It’s estimated that 7,500 nursing home workers alone are unvaccinated.

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The current mandate states all workers must have their first shot or a religious or medical waiver by Sept. 30.

The Colorado Health Care Association, which represents 90% of nursing homes, and the Colorado Hospital Association, say they were assured the state would not take punitive action until the end of October, when the second vaccine is required.

But the health department issued a statement Wednesday that led some to panic stating, “Facilities that are not compliant with the rule are breaking the law and employees who do not get the shot are choosing to fire themselves.”

Both the hospital and nursing home associations warned, if they have to start firing employees, it will endanger patients’ safety. They’re already dealing with staff shortages.

Thursday, Scott Bookman, CDPHE’s Incident Commander for COVID Response, clarified that the health department can’t force a hospital or nursing home to fire someone. While it can impose sanctions, including suspending or revoking a facility’s license, Bookman says the goal is to work with providers in a non-punitive way and he says enforcement doesn’t happen overnight.

(credit: Getty Images)

“Tomorrow, the health care vaccine mandate goes into effect. This has the effect of state law and our health care facility regulators will begin enforcing compliance to this law. Our goal is to work with these facilities to gain compliance over time but the mandate goes into effect tomorrow and we will begin collecting this information and working with providers,” said Bookman.

The state mandate comes as the federal government plans to implement a nationwide vaccine mandate for health care workers in the next few weeks. The Colorado Board of Health, which issued the regulation, is also considering lowering the compliance threshold to 90% instead of 100% of employees.

Doug Farmer, head of the Colorado Health Care Association, says conflicting messages from all levels of government have been a major source of frustration for nursing homes since the start of the pandemic.

(credit: CBS)

“Once again providers are confused. Some providers think they have until the end of October. Some have heard that no, they only have until today. That uncertainty is leading to a lot of confusion and a lot of fear for people and it was avoidable. It would be an enormous mistake to try and enforce the termination of 7,500 employees in long-term care. If in fact, they don’t have their first vaccination as of today That would lead to at least 4,000 residents in long-term care displaced and I have no idea where they would be sent to,” said Farmer.

Shaun Boyd