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Health

Employee vaccination deadlines loom for hospitals, amid staffing crisis

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Mufid Majun via Unsplash
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Deadlines are fast approaching at several of the state’s largest health systems for tens of thousands of employees to submit proof they’ve received a COVID-19 vaccine, or face disciplinary action. 

  

But hospitals are now even more loath to lose any workers than they were when they announced the vaccine requirements over the summer, thanks to severe staffing shortages, burnout, and rising COVID hospitalizations.  

Henry Ford Health System employees have until this Friday, September 10, to submit proof of vaccination. As of last week, 92% had received at least their first shot, said Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Adnan Munkarah. Asked if he feared “an exodus” of workers come Friday, Munkarah said they were trying to retain as many people as possible.

“We continue to work with the rest of the group over the next few days...to make sure we address their concerns, whether they have legitimate exemptions that we will be able to process, or whether there are other questions that they have related to the vaccine that we can get [answered,]” he said. “So we hope that we'll be able to retain [them] and will not have to see any of our team members depart. 

“With that said, we also have been able to kind of come up with mitigation plans going forward, in case we have the unfortunate situation of losing some of our staff, to determine...where we can cross cover, and what services we need to keep an eye on.”

While several states, including Connecticut, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Rhode Island, have issued broad vaccine mandates for healthcare workers, Michigan has left the question in the hands of each individual health system. The vast majority are requiring workers to get vaccinated, including Ascension, Beaumont Health, Michigan Medicine, Spectrum Health, and Trinity Health. 

“We have a duty to protect our patients and our staff,” Beaumont CEO John Fox said in July when the policy was announced. “The delta variant is the most contagious form of COVID-19. It spreads much faster than the original version of the virus. We want all Beaumont team members to stay healthy. The vaccine is the only safe and effective way to truly protect against COVID-19.”

“Team members who do not meet exemptions and refuse to get vaccinated will initially be suspended,” a press release stated. “Those who choose not to be vaccinated will no longer be allowed to work at Beaumont.”

Trinity Health is giving most workers until September 21, and said it has not yet determined if a COVID booster shot will be required annually. 

“Exemptions are available for religious or health reasons and must be formally requested, documented, and approved,” the health system said in a statement. “Employees who do not meet criteria for exemption and fail to show proof of vaccination will have their employment terminated.”

But some workers have pushed back against the mandates. 

“As the representative of over 1,800 union healthcare workers at Mercy Hospital, SEIU Healthcare Michigan is opposed to Trinity’s blanket, one-size-fits-all vaccination policy,” said Andrea Acevedo, President of SEIU Healthcare Michigan in a July statement. While stressing that the union is “pro-vaccine,” Acevedo criticized the mandate’s implementation as “unilateral” and a “direct violation of worker rights” since it wasn’t discussed with workers ahead of time as part of the bargaining process. 

Instead, the union pressed health systems to enact a “voluntary” vaccination policy that would “respect the autonomy of our frontline healthcare workers to be the stewards of their personal health. The decision to get vaccinated should be their choice alone.”

Editor's note: Henry Ford Health System and Ascension are among Michigan Radio's corporate sponsors. This post has been corrected on 9/7/21 to note John Fox is still currently the CEO of Beaumont Health, which has signed a formal integration agreement with Spectrum Health. Fox will be stepping down as part of the merger.

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