CT hospitals to require COVID vaccine for employees


Connecticut’s 27 acute care hospitals are moving to adopt a policy requiring staff members to be vaccinated against COVID-19, following dozens of other hospitals and health systems nationwide that have implemented the mandate.

The edict gained momentum last month after a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit against Houston Methodist that challenged the hospital’s vaccine requirement for workers. Houston Methodist was one of the first hospitals in the U.S. to mandate that staff be inoculated against the coronavirus. One hundred and seventeen unvaccinated employees brought the suit, saying it was illegal for management to demand that workers get the shot.

The dismissal cleared the way for many others to implement the requirement. Hospitals in New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, Indiana, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and other states have imposed the rule. And it has raised questions about whether other health care facilities, such as nursing homes, federally qualified health centers, private practice physicians and community clinics, will be compelled to join them.

In Connecticut, discussion around the policy began two months ago and culminated recently in an announcement by the state’s hospital association that all of the facilities would soon require COVID-19 vaccinations for their staff. The move was agreed upon by hospital leaders.

“There are some patients now who are asking, ‘Is everyone coming in and out of my room vaccinated? Are the clinical staff vaccinated?’ Certainly it’s a concern for patients,” said Paul Kidwell, senior vice president of policy for the Connecticut Hospital Association, which is helping to develop the mandate. “We want to be able to tell our patients that we’ve done everything we can to make sure they are protected from COVID.”

The effort comes as the highly contagious Delta variant gains a stronger foothold in Connecticut and elsewhere. Researchers at Yale estimate that 10% to 20% of the state’s cases now are the Delta variant.

While the rate of new coronavirus cases and deaths has slowed Connecticut, health officials are watching the variants closely.

“Our transmission rate is very low, and our hospitalization rate is very low, but we do need to keep our guard up against the variants,” Kidwell said. “The best way to protect all of us and keep our patients safe is to get as many people vaccinated as possible.”

Arielle Levin Becker :: CTMirror.org

At Yale New Haven Health, about 81% of the 28,589-member staff have been inoculated against COVID-19.

Hospital administrators and the association have not yet revealed when the policy will take effect and what the deadline will be for workers to get vaccinated. The precise requirements may vary slightly among hospitals, but all will mandate that workers be vaccinated, Kidwell said.

Details, concerns

While details of the policy are still being firmed up by hospitals, the edict will likely apply not only to clinical staff, but to everyone who works in a hospital or related health system, officials said, even if workers are not interacting with patients.

Still under discussion is whether the requirement will extend to contractors who work with the hospitals.

At Bristol Health, which is finalizing its policy, managers say they will require some contractors to be vaccinated.

“For those that are predominantly in our locations on a frequent basis – either on a daily basis or multiple times on a weekly basis – they will be required to be vaccinated as well,” said Christine Laprise, vice president of human resources and administrative services for Bristol Health.

The company will offer medical and religious exemptions to employees, though workers who select an exemption will be required to continue wearing a mask. Bristol Health has a similar policy for staff who claim an exemption to the flu shot.

About 75% of the health system’s 1,700 workers are currently vaccinated, and Laprise said all staff members have been put on notice about the upcoming policy. An online system already in place allows workers to upload their vaccination cards into their employee profiles.

The company is working with staff who are reluctant to get vaccinated.

“Some people are still concerned about long-term effects. We see a much smaller population than originally, but some women of childbearing age are still concerned about getting the vaccine,” Laprise said. “Education in general has really helped dispel some of the concerns.”

The Yale New Haven Health system is considering what type of exemptions it may offer for staff, but managers say they will be more discerning over exemptions for medical workers.

“For the flu vaccine, there was one [exception] if you were allergic to eggs or if you had Guillain-Barré [syndrome]. But neither of those plays into this because the same materials weren’t used to make this vaccine,” said Marna Borgstom, the health system’s CEO. “As far as personal or religious objections, we have not yet decided what that process will look like or how we will handle them. But I do think it’s safe to say it will be hard to have people who are exempt from the vaccine in direct patient care.”

Tom Balcezak, the chief clinical officer, said patients and their families have occasionally been asking whether employees there are vaccinated. About 81% of the 28,589-member staff have been inoculated against COVID-19.

The health system still has a universal masking policy and testing available.

“We have a number of different safety measures in place,” Balcezak said. The vaccine mandate “is one more step we are going to take in the next week or two to make sure we are protecting our staff, our patients and our visitors to the greatest extent possible.”

“I would hope that individuals working in health care would want to do everything they can to protect their colleagues, themselves, and most importantly, the patients and families that we care for,” he said.

For now, hospital administrators say they are not worried about staff departures when the vaccine requirement goes into effect. After Houston Methodist’s policy was adopted, 153 workers resigned or were fired from the health system for non-compliance.

Yehyun Kim :: ctmirror.org

The Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine bottles sit on a desk before distribution starts.

Although 24,947 employees there did get vaccinated by earlier deadlines, Houston Methodist suspended 178 workers who failed to do so on June 7, giving them an additional two weeks to prove they had been immunized, the Washington Post reported. Twenty-five of those staff members got vaccinated.

“Houston Methodist has over 20,000 employees, so the rate of individuals who decided to leave the organization or were let go is extremely small. The vast majority of individuals in that network decided to become vaccinated,” Kidwell said. “That’s what I think we will see in Connecticut. Once the requirement is laid out in additional detail, I think we’ll see that our employees respond to it and will get vaccinated.”

As hospitals prepare to impose the order, health officials say the move may put pressure on other providers to adopt similar policies. Some nursing homes, federally qualified health centers and other facilities already require coronavirus vaccinations.

“It clearly sends a message that health care organizations believe the right thing to do is to get vaccinated and to protect yourselves and others,” said Rob Rioux, chief operating officer of the Community Health Center Association of Connecticut. “What individual organizations elect to do, I don’t know. But it wouldn’t surprise me if they moved in that direction.”

A ripple effect?

In June, Mark Masselli, president and founder of Community Health Center Inc., the state’s largest network of federally qualified health centers,…


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