ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) — Several local hospitals are now requiring their staff to get the COVID-19 vaccine and with these mandates, there are also deadlines.
Thursday, September 30, is the deadline for Mercy employees to complete their COVID-19 vaccination or face losing their jobs.
Mercy officials tell us they are requiring the vaccine due to the number of coronavirus cases in the communities they serve and the spread of the delta variant.
Mercy NWA has about 2,400 staff members and Mercy Fort Smith has about 2,900.
Officials say the majority of their employees have been vaccinated and a handful of exemptions have been granted for various medical or religious reasons.
Moreover, a spokesperson says they have been working with staff and giving them the opportunity to learn more about the COVID-19 shot. However, not everyone is on board.
“I felt like the mandate was rushed. I can’t unvaccinate myself if something was to go wrong. I said this from the beginning if the administration had sat down with those who are vaccine-hesitant… I feel like the attempt with this mandate is into beating us into submission and there’s been no communication,” Chelcey Bitner, Mercy Hospital employee.
Mercy says quote “Over the past few months, co-workers have been given opportunities to learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine by submitting their questions and concerns to local Mercy leaders including physicians, administrative directors, the human resources team and our local chaplains.”
Anyone who doesn’t meet the deadline will be suspended for 28 days, without pay, starting Friday, October 1. During this suspension, they will maintain their benefits, but if they are not fully vaccinated by the end of October, they will be fired.
Mercy adds that they are prepared to cover shifts for those who might be suspended starting tomorrow.
Statement from Mercy : “Mercy co-workers have until this Thursday (Sept. 30) to complete their COVID-19 vaccination or submit proof of the vaccination they have already completed. We anticipated a small number of our co-workers would wait until the last days to meet our vaccination policy requirements before facing an unpaid suspension for up to 28 days. Mercy will have an accurate number of co-workers who chose not to comply with the policy, including receiving approval for an exemption, after that 28-day suspension period has expired at the end of October.”
Here’s what other hospitals in the region are doing.
Arkansas Children’s hospital is requiring it for all of the leadership staff as of Sept 30. A vaccine requirement is already in place for its new hires.
Washington Regional set a deadline for October 1.
Despite not having a requirement, Northwest Health says the majority of its staff have chosen to be vaccinated and they are doing routine testing of their unvaccinated employees.
Statement from Northwest Health : “Our hospital and its caregiving team will work to comply with the President’s order requiring COVID-19 vaccination and look forward to receiving further guidance from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) about its implementation. Northwest Health remains dedicated to educating our employees and the community about the COVID-19 vaccine, including sharing information about safety, efficacy and side effects. At this time, we have not made the vaccine mandatory as the majority of our employees have chosen to be vaccinated. We have implemented regular COVID-19 testing for unvaccinated employees and follow the recommended safety protocols in our facilities including wearing masks and social distancing.”
Baptist Health does not have a vaccine mandate in place.
Statement from Baptist Health : “The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is expected to release an Interim Final Rule for health care facility vaccine requirements. Baptist Health will be communicating with our employees regarding any ongoing and/or required vaccination policies.”
We sat down with the President & CEO of Washington Regional, Larry Shackelford, this is what he had to say.
“This is not a decision that was made lightly… If we were going to talk the talk ,if we were going to say we believe one of the ways out is through the vaccine, then we needed to demonstrate that as well,” said Shackelford.
Just over 96% of Washington regional team members are fully vaccinated. 100% of its physicians have gotten the COVID-19 shot