West Virginia hospitals are beginning to adopt policies requiring employees to be vaccinated against Covid-19. WVU Medicine and Mon Health, both based in Morgantown, were among the first. They announced the decision to their employees Monday. (Read more here.)
WVU Medicine is the largest private employer in the state. It operates 21 hospitals, most in West Virginia, and employs 26,000 people. President and CEO Albert Wright said requiring the vaccinations is the right thing to do for patients and staff.
“The number of unvaccinated staff out due to Covid is increasing and is starting to have a material impact on our patient care mission,” Wright said. “We cannot have a two-tiered workforce with one that is vaccinated and one that is not.”
Wright said the hospital will have narrow exemptions for health or religious reasons. However, all other employees who refuse to get vaccinated will be let go.
Hospitalizations for Covid have risen to 491, the highest level since last November, when the virus was surging and there was no vaccine. Sixty-eight patients are on ventilators, up from just six in early July.
“We’ve now actually switched over to a public health crisis,” Wright said on Talkline Tuesday, “and when you get to the point where you are in a public health crisis, a public health mindset has to be for the greater good.”
The West Virginia Hospital Association endorses mandatory vaccinations. “Physicians, nurses, and hospitals’ clinical leaders are confident in both the science and the safety behind the vaccine, with the benefits strongly outweighing the minimal side effects,” the association said in a statement.
The move by West Virginia hospitals corresponds with a growing trend. Becker’s Hospital Review reports about 2,150 hospitals across the country have implemented coronavirus vaccination policies, although not all specifically require shots.
The first hospital to make the vaccines mandatory was Houston Methodist back on March 31. Becker’s reports just over 153 of the hospital’s 26,000 employees either resigned or were terminated for not complying with the mandate.
Wright believes WVU Medicine may lose some employees over the mandate, which could create staffing problems. However, he said their institutions already have staffing issues because of employees who get Covid or must quarantine because of contact.
Houston Methodist president and CEO Dr. Marc Boom told Becker’s that the final approval by the Food and Drug Administration this week of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine should encourage more people to get the shot.
“This should move things to where anyone who had any lingering doubts should put those aside, listen to the physicians, listen to the scientists, listing to the FDA, listen to the hospitals and move forward and go get vaccinated, and let’s bring this pandemic under control,” Boom said.
The West Virginia hospitals are making a bold move, and one that will cause controversy because of the reluctance by many individuals in this state to get vaccinated. However, these health care workers and staff are on the front lines of the fight against Covid. System-wide vaccinations will help establish a bulkhead against the pandemic and prevent more sickness and death.