COVID-19

Phoenix hospitals mandate COVID-19 vaccines for employees

Low vaccination, Delta variant creating third surge

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One by one, Valley health care systems are requiring the COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of employment at hospitals as the Delta variant and low vaccination numbers propels the U.S. into a third surge of the virus.

Mayo Clinic, the Rochester- based hospital system with two facilities in the Phoenix area, announced its COVID-19 mandate on Monday. A news release from the health care provider said all employees, regardless of location or department, will be required to provide proof of vaccination by Sept. 17. Employees will also be given an option to decline, which will require them to take an online education module and continue to wear a mask and social distance while at work.

“We are proud of our staff’s high vaccination rates and are grateful that the vast majority have embraced the opportunity to get vaccinated,” said Dr. Gianrico Farrugia, Mayo Clinic’s president and CEO. “Our patients expect to be safe when they come to Mayo Clinic, and we need to do everything we can to protect everybody.”

National data show 97% of hospitalizations and 99% of COVID-19 deaths are owed to the unvaccinated.

James McVeigh, a spokesman for Mayo Clinic, said “the reasons for declination include medical, religious or philosophical, and other related reasons.” He added employees will be given more information on the topic on Aug. 23.

McVeigh said more than 95% of Mayo’s physicians have been vaccinated al

ready and overall staff vaccination rates range from 75% to 85% presently.

“We are optimistic that this additional push will result in even greater participation,” he said.

Banner Health, Arizona’s largest health care system, became the first in the state to mandate the vaccine for its employees. Banner staffers have been told they must receive one of the three approved COVID-19 vaccines by Nov. 1 or find a new place to work — with “limited exceptions,” according to a news release from the company.

“We care for some of the most vulnerable people in our communities and we owe it to them to take every measure possible to ensure the safest care environment,” said Peter Fine, president and CEO for Banner Health, in a company- wide email on July 20.

Banner has taken steps to encourage its employees to get the vaccine, including an incentive program that will hand out $10,000 to 10 vaccinated people across Banner’s workforce. Banner also has provided its employees with pay for time away to get vaccinated, mileage reimbursement and points toward its wellness program that offers discounts on health insurance.

HonorHealth, the Scottsdale- based provider, became the second Valley health care employer to mandate the vaccine on Friday, following in Banner’s footsteps. HonorHealth also will require employees submit proof of vaccination by Nov. 1, with rare exceptions.

The three Valley health care systems have joined a rapidly growing list of hospitals and providers mandating the vaccine across the country.

Beckers Hospital Review reported more than 30 health care systems across the U.S. have mandated the vaccine as a condition of employment. That includes big names like University of Chicago Medicine, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which gave employees a deadline of Sept. 9, and Boston-based Mass General Brigham.

National Nurses United, a union of registered nurses from across the U.S., said it is in full agreement with employer vaccine mandates.

In a statement, the organization said “that vaccination is a critically important part of a comprehensive public health program for infection control. We strongly believe all eligible people should be vaccinated, while respecting the need for medical and religious accommodations.”

But vaccination, while critical in ending the pandemic, is not the only way to stave off COVID-19.

In addition to vaccination, National Nurses United said “proven and effective public and workplace infection control measures” must also be taken to protect patients and front line workers, including additional protective equipment, adequate staff members, routine testing and more.

With just over 51% of Arizona’s population fully vaccinated against the virus and an additional 1,441 cases reported on Monday, the virus is continuing to make its way through the state.

Not everyone has decided to make the vaccine a requirement yet. While Dr. Michael White, chief clinical officer of Phoenix-based Valleywise Health, said in a Thursday news briefing the nonprofit is considering taking the step, Abrazo Health has decided against a mandate for the time being.

“Abrazo Health supports vaccinations for the community and its employees,” said spokesman Keith Jones. “We are not requiring employees to receive vaccinations while the vaccinations are still under an emergency- use authorization. We are closely monitoring trends and are making adjustments daily to ensure our staff, physicians and patients are protected.”

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