To mandate or not to mandate? The COVID vaccine question heats up in N.J. hospitals - Health Professionals & Allied Employees

To mandate or not to mandate? The COVID vaccine question heats up in N.J. hospitals

Taken from

By Spencer Kent | NJ Advance Media for

July 24, 2021

The vaccine debate continues.

Six workers were recently fired by RWJBarnabas Health for not receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, the hospital network announced this week. They were supervisory employees who failed to comply with the health system’s June 30 mandate.

While the vaccine requirement applied to only supervisors at the time, RWJBarnabas Health expanded its mandate this week to include “all staff and physicians.” A new deadline will be forthcoming, according to a spokeswoman.

The terminations were the latest skirmish in the debate over hospital worker inoculations, an issue health systems are facing in New Jersey and across the country: Should their employees be required or merely encouraged? As the highly contagious Delta variant continues to surge and new cases and hospitalizations in the state topped 800 and 400 respectively on Friday, there has been a renewed focus on vaccine efforts, including inside medical facilities.

Especially as millions of New Jersey residents remain unvaccinated.

While some hospital networks like RWJBarnabas Health are mandating vaccinations, many others have formulated voluntary policies, despite encouraging immunization among their employees.

Here’s where the state’s biggest health systems and organizations stand:

Atlantic Health

Atlantic Health is not mandating its employees get the vaccine. Yet more than 77% of team members have received at least one dose, according to a spokesman.

He referred to Atlantic’s previous statement to NJ Advance Media regarding its vaccine policy, which said that the 77% were vaccinated “without mandating our team members to receive it.”

“However, as an extra layer of protection for our patients, families and one another, Atlantic Health System is providing unvaccinated team members with the option to either receive the vaccine or to be tested weekly before reporting to work. Additionally, in accordance with NJDOH rules, universal masking is still required in all of our medical centers. Ultimately we encourage every eligible person in New Jersey to get vaccinated against COVID-19, as it is our best defense against the spread of this virus and its variants.”

Hackensack Meridian Health

Hackensack Meridian Health announced last week that its 35,000 employees must be fully vaccinated by Nov. 15. The hospital system has 17 hospitals and 500 additional medical facilities throughout the state.

“We are requiring vaccinations for all team members to help stop the spread of this deadly virus and keep our patients, team members and visitors safe,” Dr. Daniel Varga, Hackensack Meridian’s chief physician executive, told NJ Advance Media last week.

“Mandatory vaccinations are the best way to achieve herd immunity, and protect our communities from the deadly variants that are threatening to wreak havoc in the months ahead. They’re our best shot at defeating this pandemic once and for all, saving lives and returning to normal.”

Inspira Health

Inspira Health, which operates three hospitals in South Jersey, along with emergency rooms and urgent care facilities, said it is not mandating the vaccine for its workers.

“We don’t have a COVID vaccination mandate policy and we continue to be in active conversation with our vaccine-hesitant employees to better understand their concerns,” a spokesman said in an email. “We are actively monitoring the current transmission rate and continue to evaluate our options.”

RWJBarnabas Health

The deadline for managers already passed, resulting in the termination of six supervisors.

However, a spokeswoman said “we will be mandating vaccination for all staff and physicians and will be announcing our plans in the coming days.” Those plans will include a deadline.

Saint Clare’s Health

A spokeswoman for Saint Clare’s Health — which operates hospitals in Dover and Denville — told NJ Advance Media that it is “not requiring the vaccine … at this time. We do encourage the staff to get vaccinated. And to date, approximately 80% to 85% of our staff is vaccinated.”

St. Joseph’s Health

St. Joseph’s University Medical Center in Paterson also is operating under a voluntary vaccine policy.

“COVID-19 vaccinations are not mandatory for St. Joseph’s Health employees at this time,” a spokeswoman said via email. “Nearly 80% of the St. Joseph’s Health staff have been vaccinated, and we continue to encourage all of our employees and the residents of our surrounding communities to get vaccinated.”

University Hospital

University Hospital set a deadline of Aug. 2 for all of its employees to be fully vaccinated.

Dr. Shereef Elnahal, president and CEO of the Newark medical center, told NJ Advance Media last month that any employee who does not comply and does not obtain a medical or religious exemption will be terminated.

“I can’t abide by the risk of us who are supposed to be caring for the most vulnerable people in our community,” he said. “I can’t abide by the risk that we continue to spread this deadly disease to each other or to our community.”

Virtua Health

All 14,000-plus employees at Virtua Health have until Sept. 15 to get vaccinated, South Jersey’s largest health system announced earlier this month.

“As care providers, we have an obligation to ‘do no harm,’” said Dennis W. Pullin, president and CEO of Virtua Health. “Having our colleagues protected against this terrible virus helps ensure we keep that promise.”

Health Professionals and Allied Employees

HPAE, the state’s largest nurses union, referred to a previous statement to NJ Advance Media in which it said it supports the use of vaccines, but noted that the “employer has a responsibility to bargain over the effects of a mandatory vaccine roll out.”

“Healthcare workers — including HPAE members — have been on the front lines taking care of patients sick from COVID-19, its variants and after-effects of the disease. Healthcare workers were exposed to the disease in their workplaces, got infected and became sick with COVID-19. Seven HPAE members that we know of have died from the disease. No one understands better than our members the devastation of COVID. HPAE believes the Covid vaccine does provide the best protection against the virus but we also understand that there may be some for whom the vaccine is prohibitive. We also believe that the employer has a responsibility to bargain over the effects of a mandatory vaccine roll out.”

The New Jersey Hospital Association

The hospital association, an organization that represents medical facilities throughout the state, mandates its own employees be vaccinated. However, it is working with its association members to create a vaccine policy for them “that makes sense,” it said.

“The safety of patients and staff is every hospital’s priority,” said Cathy Bennett, NJHA president and CEO, in an emailed statement to NJ Advance Media in late June that it again referenced. “NJHA is working with our members to create a vaccine policy that makes sense. As healthcare providers, protecting those in our care is mission number one, and we know that the vaccines are our best defense against COVID-19 and the variants. Our association mandated vaccines for our employees because we want everyone to feel safe and comfortable at work. It is with that goal in mind that we coordinate the conversation with the state’s hospitals to determine the best course of action related to mandatory vaccines.”

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