By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.
Following a November decision by a federal court in Louisiana blocking Biden’s mandate of Covid-19 vaccines for health care workers, some hospitals have dropped their vaccine requirements, in a bid to ease severe labour shortages, according to today’s Wall Street Journal, Some Hospitals Drop Covid-19 Vaccine Mandates to Ease Labor Shortages.
These hospital chains include Advent Health, the Cleveland Clinic, HCA Healthcare Inc, Intermounain Healthcare, and Tenet Healthcare Corp. Per the WSJ:
…Labor costs in the industry have soared, and hospitals struggled to retain enough nurses, technicians and even janitors to handle higher hospitalizations in recent months as the Delta variant raged. Vaccine mandates have been a factor constraining the supply of healthcare workers, according to hospital executives, public-health authorities and nursing groups.
Many hospitals already struggled to find workers, including nurses, before the pandemic. The shortages were compounded by burnout among many medical workers and the lure of high pay rates offered to nurses who travel to hot spots on short-term contracts.
Large numbers of nurses, in particular, have voted with their feet, opting to quit or be fired, rather than get jabbed. The WSJ reports:
More recently, thousands of nurses have left the industry or lost their jobs rather than get vaccinated. As of September, 30% of workers at more than 2,000 hospitals across the country surveyed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were unvaccinated.
“It’s been a mass exodus, and a lot of people in the healthcare industry are willing to go and shop around,” said Wade Symons, an employee-benefits lawyer and head of consulting firm Mercer’s U.S. regulatory practice. “If you get certain healthcare facilities that don’t require it, those could be a magnet for those people who don’t want the vaccine. They’ll probably have an easier time attracting labor.”
Some hospital executives have applauded the federal court’s decision to void the mandate. According to the WSJ:
“I don’t think the mandates were helpful and I think the court in Louisiana did everyone a service,” said Alan Levine, chief executive officer of Ballad Health, which runs 21 hospitals in Tennessee and Virginia.
Mr. Levine said his company has about 14,000 employees, some 2,000 of whom are unvaccinated or didn’t request an exemption to the requirement. “That many people having to be terminated would have been devastating to our system,” Mr. Levine said.
In spite of dropping their vaccine mandates, some hospitals continue to urge their staff to get vaccinated, according to the Journal:
“We continue to strongly encourage our colleagues to be vaccinated as a critical step to protect individuals from the virus,” HCA spokesman Harlow Sumerford said. He said a majority of HCA’s roughly 275,000 employees are fully vaccinated.
Not all hospitals have eliminated their vaccine requirements. Kaiser Permanente and Northwell Health continue to require Covid-19 vaccinations and have fired staff who refuse to comply. Per the WSJ:
Not all hospital systems have scratched the mandate. Kaiser Permanente, which runs 39 hospitals and hundreds of medical offices in California and other states and employs nearly 210,000 people, said it gave employees until Dec. 1 to get vaccinated. So far, 98% of staff are vaccinated, but on Wednesday the hospital system terminated 352 employees, and another 1,500 face termination in early January unless they become fully vaccinated or receive an exemption, Kaiser said.
Northwell Health, New York state’s largest healthcare provider with 77,000 employees, said its mandate remains in place. In October, Northwell told The Wall Street Journal that 1,400 employees had been terminated for refusing to get vaccinated.
I assume that given the tight health care labour market, most of those terminated have been able to find new jobs. But that may depend on where these workers are located. Some states have imposed vaccine requirements, and health care workers must still comply with local laws. Given the nationwide shortage of health care workers, the possibility is I suppose open for those who don’t want to get jabbed to relocate accordingly.
Hospitals that have suspended vaccine requirements following the federal court decision have implemented additional safety measures to attempt to stem Covid-19 disease transmission between staff and patients:
The Cleveland Clinic, which has 19 hospitals in Ohio and Florida and about 65,000 U.S. employees, and Utah hospital giant Intermountain Healthcare also said they would suspend vaccine requirements following the courts’ actions. The Cleveland Clinic said it would add safety measures, such as periodic testing for unvaccinated employees who care for patients. Intermountain said 98% of its workforce had complied with the federal mandate. [Jerri-Lynn here: my emphasis.]
The highlighted phrase suggests that, even at this late stage of the pandemic, U.S. health care workers aren’t tested regularly for Covid-19 as a matter of course. And further that the testing question is left up to the hospital – or individual – to decide. If that’s indeed the practice, that strikes me as insane – especially given that we know even vaccinated people can pass along the disease (not to mention, catch it themselves), sometimes without exhibiting any symptoms and therefore, having no awareness they’re infected. Shouldn’t all health care employees, whether or not vaccinated, be tested periodically?
I linked today to a Guardian article about the UK’s shortage of certain types of home test kits, No more lateral flow home test kits available, says NHS England. I’m also aware of White House press secretary Jen Psaki’s gaffe last week about rapid test kits, Jen Psaki Accidentally Tells the Truth About How Expensive Covid Rapid Tests Are in U.S.. But surely, the testing regimen for health care workers is different. Surely?