RICHMOND, Va. -- One of the state’s leading healthcare associations voiced their support for requiring employees of hospitals and healthcare systems to receive a coronavirus vaccine.
On Monday, Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association released the new policy change after months of discussions and data evaluations, according to VHHA spokesperson Julian Walker.
“The scientific evidence clearly demonstrates that the COVID-19 vaccines prevent people from becoming seriously ill, requiring hospitalization, or dying from the virus, as well as spreading it to others. Virginia Department of Health data shows that since late January when vaccines first became available to the general public in the Commonwealth, 99.4 percent of cases, 99 percent of hospitalizations, and 99.3 percent of deaths have occurred in people who have not been vaccinated,” the association wrote in a statement.
Walker said the policy change was presented to the VHHA Board of Directors last week and received feedback from several of their members which include 26 healthcare systems that represent dozens of hospitals.
“This is also reaffirming our commitment to patient safety and the best health outcome for the patient,” he explained. “We are limiting the chance that infection can spread through the facility, that infection can be passed between one person to another, limiting the chance of infection in patients and their families.”
Dr. Carlton Stadler, a local ER doctor and member of the Virginia College of Emergency Physicians, jumped at the change in January to get his vaccine.
“The only way to effectively prevent the spread of this wasn’t anything that we were necessarily doing in the emergency room for patients unless we vaccinated ourselves,” Stadler stated. “Being in medicine, we have to set an example for those in the community.”
CBS 6 reached out to the top three hospital systems in Central Virginia for a comment. Both Bon Secours and HCA Healthcare are not mandating their employees get the COVID-19 vaccine but are strongly encouraging them to do so.
“Our infectious disease experts, as well as those at the CDC, are strongly encouraging vaccination as a critical step to protect individuals from the virus. Our hospitals follow guidance outlined by the CDC regarding protocols for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals in our facilities, including universal masking for all colleagues, patients and visitors. Our colleagues are not required to be vaccinated for COVID-19, but we highly encourage our employees and the public to consider vaccination to keep themselves, their families, and their communities safe,” wrote HCA Healthcare spokesman Jeff Caldwell.
Bon Secours spokesperson Emma Swann said their hospital system’s COVID-19 vaccine clinics are ongoing and continue to see strong interest in receiving the vaccine from their associations about six months after the vaccine became readily available to the public.
“Bon Secours strongly encourages associates to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. We are consistently reviewing local, state and national guidelines. We continue to provide robust information and resources for our associates to inform their decision-making process,” Swann said in an email. “Each associate that works for Bon Secours is critical to supporting patient care and health care operations, now and always. Our associates’ health and safety, who support our patients and visitors on and off the frontline, is always our top priority.”
VCU Health's Director of Public Affairs Laura Rossacher said the VCU Health community strongly encourages team members to get vaccinated and that they make it easy to do so. She said that they offer about 150 new vaccination appointments weekly.
"As of July 2021, over 70% of our VCU Health System team members had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. The number of vaccinated employees is likely higher since our data only reflects vaccinations that took place at our health system. Team members who received their COVID-19 vaccine elsewhere and new employees who got vaccinated prior to joining VCU Health System are not included in our numbers," Rossacher said.
She added that amid the challenges that the delta variant is posing, they are preparing virtual town halls to communicate with team members about their vaccination approach.
Dr. Stadler believed it’s not “if”, but “when” hospital systems begin mandating the vaccine for the employees.
“The best way to prevent an emergency or treat an emergency is to prevent it from ever happening,” he said.