MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A committee heard concerns that workers are leaving nursing homes and state jobs because they must be vaccinated or get tested regularly.

Minnesota has about 36,000 state workers, and 26,000 of them report to offices and workplaces — and therefore must be vaccinated.

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Abbie Tiemann, a certified nursing assistant, described plunging staff levels at the nursing home she worked at, which she did not name.

“At our facility, we currently have a 40% to 45% vaccination rate for staff,” Tiemann said. “We’ve come to the point where no one else is willing to take that vaccine. I am one of them … In the last couple months, we lost six nursing assistants, three nurses and the administrator.”

The state estimates out of 36,000 state workers, 523 have refused to either be vaccinated or tested. Chuck Johnson, deputy commissioner of the Department of Human Services, says staffing levels throughout his department are adequate, and most workers are supportive.

“We’ve also heard from employees whose response was, ‘Finally. Finally we’re gonna help … drive people toward getting vaccinated,’” Johnson said.

(credit: CBS)

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Sen. Jim Abeler says there need to be changes to the state mandate policy.

“We want to treat all our employees respectfully,” Abeler said. “Let’s just roll it back a little bit. That’s the purpose of this hearing.”

But Gov. Tim Walz strongly defended the mandate.

“The vaccine is safe and it works,” Walz said.

And the governor sounded disappointed, but not surprised, that some workers may leave state jobs.

“I’m concerned about losing workers, especially because of what we’re doing is to protect them,” he said. “I would guess we lost workers when we said you couldn’t smoke in the building anymore.”

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About 10,000 state workers are able to work from home. They are not required to get vaccinated.

Esme Murphy