One year ago this week, hundreds of thousands of Washingtonians employed by the state, public schools and working in the healthcare industry faced a stark choice: get vaccinated against COVID-19 or lose your job.
While an easy decision for some, others had sincere concerns about the wisdom or necessity of taking the new vaccine.
The dilemma was created by Proclamation 21-14.5, issued by Gov. Jay Inslee on May 20, 2021. While sweeping in its scope and unforgiving in its consequences, the decree contained a glaring hole.
While it required “health care providers” to receive the vaccine as a condition of continued employment, including long-term care workers caring for elderly clients or persons with disabilities, “individual providers” were exempt from the requirement.
Just like many other long-term care workers in nursing and adult family homes, in-home individual providers work in in extremely close proximity to Medicaid-eligible persons.
Assuming the vaccine mandate was justified on legal and public health grounds, why would the state’s more than 40,000 individual providers (IPs) be exempt?
Perhaps not coincidentally, IPs are unionized and represented by SEIU Local 775, a top campaign donor for Inslee and Democrat candidates statewide, though the membership of other major unions backing Democrats were covered by the proclamation.
With no obvious explanation for the exemption, on Aug. 30, 2021, I emailed a polite inquiry to Mike Faulk, Gov. Inslee’s deputy communications director and press secretary, writing:
“Proclamation 21-14.1 applies to ‘health care providers’ including ‘long-term care workers’ and those working in adult family homes, but specifically exempts ‘individual providers, as defined in RCW 74.39A.240.’
Given that individual providers are a subset of long-term care worker and perform the same kind of work in the same kinds of residential settings as adult family home providers, what is the public health justification for specifically excluding IPs from the vaccination mandate?”
After receiving no reply, I submitted a public records request to the governor’s office and brought the matter to the attention of The Seattle Times, which published a news story about the exemption quoting both Faulk and the Freedom Foundation on Oct. 5, 2021.
One year later, the governor’s office continues to slowly produce records in response to the Freedom Foundation’s request.
A recent disclosure included an email in which Faulk forwarded my inquiry about the vaccine exemption for IPs to Kathryn Leathers, Inslee’s general counsel, and Caitlyn Jekel, the governor’s then-labor policy advisor.
Faulk’s email read simply: “FYI from Freedom Foundation. They’re not media and I’m not responding.”
This is hardly the reaction one would expect from someone who boasts on his LinkedIn profile of his ability to “work collaboratively,” “answer thousands and thousands of press inquiries,” and notes his pride at being part of “the most transparent and responsive communications team of any elected official in the United States.”
While Faulk may not like the Freedom Foundation, the reality is that we regularly publish original news and commentary, both in print and online, to our network of tens of thousands of Washington supporters.
During the pandemic, we broke the news, widely covered by traditional media, that the state was over-counting COVID-19 fatalities. While Inslee dismissed our research out of hand as the work of interstellar conspiracy theorists, public records subsequently showed that his own staff recognized the claims as “true,” though they avoided publicly referencing the “Freedom Foundation” when responding to press inquiries on the grounds that, “They don’t need the publicity.”
Faulk’s email displays a similarly unfortunate and callous indifference to substantive issues of interest not just to the Freedom Foundation, but to the wider public, as evidenced by the subsequent coverage of the issue by none other than The Seattle Times. While Faulk might find it annoying to have to respond to uncomfortable or difficult questions from people or groups who may disagree with him, that’s part of his job, and it’s not too much for the Washingtonians who pay his salary to expect him to do it.