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Hospitals Hope Mandates Will Boost Workers’ Stagnant Vaccination Rates

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Most hospitals will require workers to be vaccinated by the end of September.

Most hospitals in Connecticut will require their workers to be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus by Sept. 30, though data show the rate of immunization across hospital staff has increased only modestly in recent months.

At Yale New Haven Health, 78% of employees were vaccinated as of April 23. As of Wednesday – nearly three months later – that number grew to 81%.

At Hartford HealthCare, 70% of workers had initiated vaccination as of May 10. As of Wednesday, 75% had done so.

Hospital leaders are aiming to change that by mandating that all staff be vaccinated by the end of September. Many hospitals are also requiring contractors they work with to be immunized.

“The members feel very strongly that this is the right thing to do to protect patients,” said Paul Kidwell, senior vice president of policy for the Connecticut Hospital Association, which is helping to develop the policy.

A June Kaiser Health News poll found that 6% of U.S. adults would get the shot if “required to do so.” Approximately 14% of adults said they would “definitely not” get vaccinated. Both numbers have held steady since January.

How the edict is enforced in Connecticut and whether there is a probationary period for workers trying to meet the deadline at the last minute will vary by hospital. Some facilities are using software that allows staff to upload vaccination cards into their employee profiles.

“I think you’ll see most hospitals will have a period of a warning, and then potentially some probationary period or administrative leave period before the final termination,” Kidwell said.

Yale New Haven Health and Hartford HealthCare officials both said Wednesday that their workers must be immunized by the end of September. Trinity Health, which owns Saint Francis Hospital in Hartford and Saint Mary’s Hospital in Waterbury, among other facilities, said previously that most of their locations will require staff to provide proof of vaccination by Sept. 21.

Health officials said they coordinated the deadlines because of concerns that some workers may try to move to other hospitals. Some large health systems, like Trinity, are requiring workers at all of their facilities nationwide to get vaccinated. Trinity has more than 117,000 employees in 22 states, including nearly 11,000 in Connecticut and Massachusetts.

“If everybody isn’t on the same page, obviously, you’re going to have employees that are going to shift from one place to the other,” said Kurt Barwis, CEO of Bristol Health. “There are parts of Connecticut that border other states where that can be a concern. … [Staffing] is a fear if we don’t all do it together.”

Union officials, however, say the mandate should be subject to negotiation. Leaders at AFT Connecticut, which represents about 7,500 nurses, patient care technicians, dietary and nutrition staff, phlebotomists and other health care workers, have reached out to hospital administrators to begin conversations.

Jan Hochadel, president of AFT Connecticut, said the labor group has been encouraging its members to get immunized since the shots became available, and that an "overwhelming majority" stepped forward to get inoculated.

“Last fall, our national union’s executive committee adopted a set of principles that included employers bargaining in good faith over specific vaccine distribution plans. The immediate goal then was to ensure the shot would be convenient and accessible for front line, essential health workers,” she said.

“What holds true 10 months later is that vaccinations as a term of employment should be addressed in mutual negotiations between labor and management. We expect our local union members’ employers to live up to their obligations under current contracts and meet us at the bargaining table before implementing any new mandates.”

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