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October 1, 2021

Are vaccine mandates driving employees to quit? Here's what 16 health systems are experiencing.

Daily Briefing

    When health systems began rolling out Covid-19 vaccine mandates for staff, many were concerned the requirements would spur a mass exodus of employees. But as the deadlines for those mandates have rolled around, vaccine uptake has exceeded expectations—with minimal staff resignations and terminations. 

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    How vaccine mandates played out at 15 health care organizations

    Although many voiced concerns about the vaccine mandates exacerbating already challenging staff shortages in the health care sector, early numbers suggest those concerns may be overblown, the New York Times reports—and the trend could bode well for President Joe Biden's planned federal vaccination mandate for most health care workers.

    For instance, New York in August mandated that all health care workers and support staff, including food service workers and cleaning staff, get an initial vaccine dose no later than Sept. 27, spurring many organizations to take preemptive action in anticipation of staff leaving.

    However, the Times on Tuesday reported that thousands of workers in the state got vaccinated ahead of the Sept. 27 deadline. The numbers increased significantly, going from about 82% of hospital employees and nursing home workers being vaccinated a week ago up to 92%—an increase of roughly 100,000 newly vaccinated people. For example, in New York, the vaccination rate at:

    • Albany Medical Center is around 98% as of this week;
    • Bassett Healthcare Network is around 97% as of this week;
    • Mohawk Valley Health System went from 70% over the summer to 95.6% this week;
    • Northwell Health is "nearly 100% vaccinated," according to a statement from the hospital system;
    • NYU Langone and New York-Presbyterian both reached 99% this week;
    • Rome Health hit 98.2% this week, following a late surge leading up to the mandate deadline;
    • St. Barnabas Hospital increased from roughly 80% last week to 97% this week; and
    • Strong Memorial Hospital increased from 92% last week, before the state's vaccine mandate took effect, to 95.5% this week.

    According to the Times, there are several other examples across the nation that suggest these mandates may be working with minimal staff resignation or termination. For instance:

    • At Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, around 800 additional workers got vaccinated since California's Covid-19 vaccine policy was announced in August—which brings the hospital's vaccination rate to 97%.
    • At Genesis HealthCare, which operates long-term-care facilities in 23 states, Covid-19 cases decreased by almost 50% after nearly all staff members received shots this summer following Biden's nursing home vaccine mandate.
    • At Novant Health, a hospital system in New York, about 1% of staff were suspended last week for refusing the vaccine—but by the end of the week, more than half of those employees received the shot and were reinstated.
    • At Trinity Health, a hospital chain with facilities in 22 states, the percentage of staff vaccinated has increased from 75% to 94% since the organization announced its own vaccine mandate.

    That said, not all organizations have fared so well. For example, in New York, the Erie County Medical Center said 20% of its nursing home staffers were placed on unpaid leave Monday for refusing the vaccines—and it is currently "scrambling to fill the gaps," the Washington Post reports. Additionally, Oneida Health, also based in New York, said it lost about 12% of its workforce. And in the San Francisco Bay area, about 10% of police, hospital and school employees have not yet complied—with state vaccine mandate deadlines fast approaching.

    Nonetheless, experts say that while these mandates have generated some concern and opposition, the evidence suggests that the number of people who ultimately refuse the vaccine is smaller than the number who first claim they will, NPR reports.

    "I'm not seeing any widespread disruptive effect," Saad Omer, of the Yale Institute for Global Health, said of the vaccine mandates.

    Moreover, some leaders believe vaccine mandates—in addition to public health benefits including curbing the spread of Covid-19 and lowering the odds of a dangerous mutation in the future—will provide long-term staffing advantages.

    According to Stephen Jones, president and CEO of Inova Health System, the organization's vaccine mandate could help with hiring and recruitment. "We're worried about it being a staffing challenge, maybe, in the short term. I think that it's actually going to be an advantage for us, that people will want to work around others who are vaccinated," he said. (Leonhardt, New York Times, 9/30; Blake, Washington Post, 9/29; Otterman/Goldstein, New York Times, 9/298; Modern Healthcare, 9/29; Farrington, NPR, 9/29)

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