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Michigan hospitals weigh vaccine mandates against staffing shortages as COVID cases rise – MLive.com

There isn’t much argument from the medical community as to whether available COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective at preventing serious illness from coronavirus infection.

But when it comes to mandating vaccination against the virus as a term of employment, Michigan’s largest hospital systems are split on whether to require it — especially at a time when staffing is tight and hospitals can’t afford to be even more shorthanded.

As of mid-September, eight major Michigan health systems have announced policies to require COVID-19 vaccinations, including Ascension, Beaumont, Bronson, Henry Ford, Munson, Spectrum, Trinity and University of Michigan health systems. Their deadlines vary, stretching through the fall and into early 2022, but all of them require full vaccination as a means to protect staff and patients alike from COVID.

On Wednesday, Sept. 22, Munson Healthcare became the latest system to announce an employee vaccine mandate, calling it a proactive move in anticipation of a federal requirement.

Meanwhile, four systems have yet to make the COVID shot mandatory, instead strongly encouraging all employees to get vaccinated. They include Detroit Medical Center, McLaren, MidMichigan, and Sparrow health systems.

The decision not to require COVID-19 vaccinations in a health care setting is not only “puzzling” to retired physician, Dr. April Campbell — it’s “dangerous” and “totally egregious.”

Campbell, who had a nearly 30 year medical career, questioned how physicians could take an oath “to do no harm” and then not ensure they’re protecting their patients at all cost. She advises patients to pick a hospital that mandates the vaccine, and avoid visiting those that don’t when possible.

“Frankly, if patient care is your goal, if it’s your life, if it’s something you’ve dedicated your life to doing and spent all that time training and so forth, why you’d want to put patients at risk, and your self, it’s puzzling,” Campbell said.

“As far as I’m concerned, if hospitals are truly interested in their patients, first and foremost, above everything, they will mandate a vaccine for their employees.”

While some of the state’s largest hospital systems haven’t moved to requiring the shot, that could change over time. This week, Lansing-based Sparrow informed its employees that they would be required to either get vaccinated or submit to weekly COVID-19 testing.

Additionally, a representative for Midland-based MidMichigan Health said they continue to “monitor the situation closely.”

Federal officials could soon apply pressure on those health systems to adjust their policies in an effort to increase vaccine uptake and protect patients. President Joe Biden recently announced a plan to require vaccination for millions of Americans, including those who are employed by a health system that receives Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement — which means most hospitals. Biden’s plan would also require shots for any business that employs 100 or more workers.

Specific details haven’t been released yet, but are expected to come out over the next month, according to John Karasinski, communications director for the Michigan Health & Hospital Association.

“It still remains to be seen what the actual policy details will be,” Karasinski said.

“However, our biggest concern is the potential impact on staffing. While it creates a national standard for healthcare providers and facilities, it could result in employees in non-clinical positions leaving hospitals for other industries and smaller workplaces not impacted by the employer mandate.”

Nationally, 80% of nursing leaders have reported an increase in nurse turnover during the pandemic, according to the Michigan Health & Hospital Association.

There are more than 1.4 million healthcare jobs open nationally, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, and a 2021 study by Incredible Health found that the demand for intensive care and emergency nurses grew by 186% over the past year.

In recent weeks, Michigan hospitals have reported in-patient bed closures due to staff shortages, including 120 beds closed throughout Henry Ford Health system and 180 throughout Beaumont Health.

Mandates increase vaccinations, but meet some pushback

In late June, Henry Ford Health System became the first in the state to announce a COVID vaccine mandate. The system, which operates hospitals in Detroit, Macomb, West Bloomfield, Wyandotte and Jackson, had about 68% of its 33,000 employees fully vaccinated at the time.

The system set a Sept. 10 deadline for employees to be fully vaccinated or received their first of a two-dose vaccine, or received an approved medical or religious exemption. As of Sept. 13, the hospital reported a 98% compliance rate, with the remaining 2% suspended until they get a first-dose shot, or until Oct. 1 when their suspension would advance into an employee termination.

“Our goal has always been to provide the safest, healthiest environment for our team members and everyone who walks through our doors,” said Bob Riney, Henry Ford’s president of healthcare operations and chief operating officer.

“It has long been our hope and goal to keep every member of our Henry Ford family. That’s why it’s important to note that even those who choose to resign because of our vaccine requirement will have the option to re-apply if they change their mind and decide to get vaccinated.”

A survey conducted in June by the American Medical Association found that 96% of physicians were vaccinated against COVID-19. That’s a higher rate that Michigan hospitals are reporting as of mid-September — generally around 65% to 75% — though hospital representatives have noted that physicians are more likely to get vaccinated compared to other staff, including entry level positions, housekeeping, dietary staff, and remote workers.

Employee COVID-19 vaccine mandates have been met with some opposition.

A group of employees, including three physicians and a number of registered nurses, filed a lawsuit against Henry Ford Health System earlier this month, arguing the mandate was unconstitutional. However, the lawsuit was voluntarily dismissed by a lawyer for the 51 employees.

There have also been a number of protests against mandating vaccines, from the lawn of the Michigan Capitol to outside hospitals like Henry Ford and Trinity Health.

In Ann Arbor, the employee mandate at Michigan Medicine comes with an exception for nurses due to an existing union contract that requires vaccine mandates to be negotiated.

The Michigan Nurses Association “strongly encourages everyone to choose to get vaccinated to protect their families and themselves.” When it comes to employee mandates, a spokesperson said these questions are “best decided democratically by health care workers themselves and need to be subject to collective bargaining.”

Vaccine requirements in hospitals aren’t new

Employee vaccine mandates are not new in hospital settings. Most hospitals have long required proof of vaccine/immunity for diseases like measles, mumps, rubella, whooping cough (pertussis), and chickenpox (varicella).

Annual flu shots are a requirement at a number of hospitals, including Beaumont, Detroit Medical Center, Henry Ford, Munson Healthcare and Michigan Medicine. Others like MidMichigan, strongly recommend the flu shot but allow employees to choose instead to wear a mask during patient care throughout flu season.

“I’ve never heard any pushback against mandated flu shots,” said Campbell, the retired physician. “A lot of systems require vaccination for hepatitis, you have to be tested for tuberculosis, and I’ve never seen anyone marching against that, which in many ways is less communicable than COVID.

“It really makes no logical or scientific sense and it puts the patients and health care people at risk, not to mandate it.”

Regardless of whether they’re mandating employs get vaccinated or not, leaders from 21 hospital systems across the state recently penned an open letter pleading for residents to get vaccinated following an increase in community transmission. Michigan is averaging 2,772 reported cases per day over the last week, up from 1,492 per day a month ago.

“As chief medical and nursing officers of major health systems in Michigan, it is with a sense of urgency, compassion and responsibility that we appeal to the citizens of our state,” reads the letter’s opener.

“Michigan appears to be heading into a fourth COVID-19 surge with rising cases across our communities and hospitals. Unlike previous surges, we finally have free, widely available, highly effective and safe vaccines available to protect you and your family. Throughout this pandemic, no other medicine or intervention has been nearly as effective in preventing serious illness and death as the COVID-19 vaccines.”

To find a vaccine near you, visit Michigan’s COVID-19 vaccine website or go to VaccineFinder.org.

Read more on MLive:

Were the COVID-19 vaccines developed too fast? What about long term effects? Doctors weigh-in

‘I need help’: Kent County’s top health official tells commissioners after threats, road rage over COVID-19 response

Johnson & Johnson says COVID vaccine booster increases protection

Michigan’s COVID breakthrough case numbers don’t tell the whole story: 7 things to know

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