Charlotte hospital systems Atrium Health and Novant Health will begin requiring all workers get the COVID-19 vaccinations, hospital officials confirmed Thursday.
Atrium Health will require all workers — including remote workers, physicians, medical residents, faculty, fellows, trainees, contractors, medical staff, students, temporary workers and volunteer staff — to get vaccinated or have an approved medical or religious exemption by Oct. 31.
And Novant Health will require the same for all of its employees, contractors, vendors and students by Sept. 15.
“We appreciate and acknowledge the tens of thousands of team members who eagerly received the vaccine,” Novant Health said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the reality is that vaccination rates remain stagnant across the country, including at Novant Health.”
More than 50% of Mecklenburg County residents have received at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccines. But that rate has dramatically slowed, climbing just one percentage point per week in recent weeks.
“While our hope is for every team member to accept the vaccine on their own, a mandatory vaccination program will ensure that Novant Health’s patients and visitors, as well as our team members, have better protection against COVID-19 regardless of where they are in our health system,” Novant said in its statement.
“This disease is preventable thanks to a safe and effective vaccine,” the hospital system said, “and we are committed to doing everything we can to bring an end to this pandemic.”
Novant Health has more than 35,000 employees at nearly 800 locations, including 15 hospitals.
And Atrium Health has more than 70,000 employees, with 40 hospitals across the Carolinas, Georgia and Alabama.
Both hospital systems faced questions about mandatory vaccinations as early as December as vaccines rolled out. At the time, officials said they were relying on employees to get the shots voluntarily.
But Novant Health infectious disease expert Dr. David Priest told reporters in June he wouldn’t be surprised to see COVID-19 vaccine requirements from an increasing number of health care systems. “It’s very important to protect our patients,” he said at the time.
Vaccination requirements at other hospitals
Other hospital systems around the state and nation also are mandating that their workers get vaccinated.
That includes several Triangle-area hospitals, including Rex, UNC Medical Center and Duke hospitals, the (Raleigh) News & Observer reported Thursday.
Also on Wednesday, the American Hospital Association announced that it supports mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies. The American Association of Medical Colleges has also pushed for the mandate. Atrium Health noted both of the organizations’ support for the mandate in its email to employees.
And on Thursday, the North Carolina Healthcare Association announced it supports COVID-19 vaccination requirements for health care workers, and commended the new requirements from Atrium, Novant and other NC hospitals.
State Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen applauded the announcement in a statement Thursday, saying: “Vaccinations are our way out of the pandemic. Don’t wait to vaccinate.”
Gastonia’s CaroMont Health has not yet implemented a COVID-19 vaccine requirement, the hospital system said in a statement. But CaroMont will add the COVID-19 shots to its existing list of required immunizations at some point.
Charlotte’s largest independent medical practice, Tryon Medical Partners, does not require the COVID-19 vaccine for its employees 450. However, more than 87% of its clinic staff are vaccinated, spokesman Tom Williams told the Observer.
Delta variant is ‘significantly more contagious’
The mandatory vaccination may be spurred in part due to the increase of delta variant cases of COVID-19 across the country.
“Just when we thought things were returning to a somewhat ‘normal’ life, the delta variant has become the most common form of COVID-19 in this country,” Atrium Health said in an email to employees announcing the vaccine mandate. “To date, the delta variant is reported to be significantly more contagious than previous versions of COVID-19.”
Atrium Health has seen COVID-19 hospitalizations double in recent weeks during an uptick in cases in Mecklenburg County and North Carolina.
And more than 99% of people hospitalized with COVID-19 at Atrium are unvaccinated, Atrium said in the email.
Atrium’s mandate applies to all workers at Atrium, including those at Wake Forest Baptist Health and Georgia’s Atrium Health Navicent.
“We view this vaccine no differently than our requirement for our teammates to get an annual flu shot, as well as be vaccinated for measles, chicken pox and other infectious diseases,” Atrium said in a statement to the Observer. “The COVID-19 vaccine is essential to protect the health of our teammates and the communities we serve.”