Healthcare providers hesitate to require workers to get the COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of employment, fearing a mandate could cause the resignations of staff they cannot afford to lose.
“[Hospitals] are doing a balancing act between caring for patients and not contributing to the pandemic by spreading COVID-19 through unvaccinated clinicians,” said Audrey Capozzoli, president of Renal Reserve, a national dialysis staffing agency. “Hospitals that mandate vaccinations and may terminate employees who refuse to get them could find themselves short-staffed. This leads to staff burnout and further reduction of qualified clinicians.”
The rapid increases in infections and wave of new hospitalizations due to the delta variant have placed increased pressure on hospital systems and other healthcare facilities to ensure their staff has been vaccinated before interacting with patients. While healthcare providers are generally more enthusiastic about getting the shots, roughly 27% were still unvaccinated in July, according to a study from the COVID States Project, a joint effort by researchers from Northeastern, Harvard, Northwestern, and Rutgers universities.
Vaccine mandates in hospitals have already proven controversial among employees. For instance, Houston Methodist Hospital, which instituted the vaccine mandate for its workers on April 1, terminated or accepted the resignations of 153 workers who refused to get the shots by the June 7 deadline.
Over 100 nurses filed a lawsuit alleging the hospital treated its workers like “guinea pigs” for mandating vaccines that haven't received full approval from the Food and Drug Administration yet. Federal Judge Lynn Hughes of the Southern District of Texas dismissed the case, calling the argument vaccines are risky “false” and “irrelevant.”
The vaccines have been vetted for safety and efficacy, and they are expected to receive federal approval in the coming months.
A nationwide shortage of nurses predating the pandemic is apparently worsening as the labor force shrinks due to increased retirements and resignations tied to the stress of the past 17 months. Workplaces that depend on nurses who specialize in particular fields of medicine, such as kidney disease treatment, could see a jump in resignations in response to mandates, leaving employers scrambling to hire qualified staff on short notice.
“You can't take an emergency room nurse and redeploy them to a dialysis clinic, whereas you might be able to take that emergency room nurse and redeploy them to another part of the hospital,” said Dr. Joseph A. Vassalotti, chief medical officer at National Kidney Foundation. “Mandating [vaccines] is just a strategy, and whether it helps or not, it has to be decided on an individual basis.”
Meanwhile, staff at nursing homes will also have to get vaccinated to keep their jobs. President Joe Biden declared on Wednesday that unless nursing homes mandate vaccinations, they will lose Medicare and Medicaid funding.
Many long-term care facilities, including nursing homes, had already imposed vaccine mandates for staff. But the American Health Care Association, a nursing homes trade group, argued this week that all healthcare providers should subject their employees to the same requirement. Otherwise, the group said, vaccine-hesitant workers would leave for other jobs.
“Focusing only on nursing homes will cause vaccine-hesitant workers to flee to other healthcare providers and leave many centers without adequate staff to care for residents. It will make an already difficult workforce shortage even worse,” said AHCA CEO Mark Parkinson.
Yet vaccinations among nursing home staff still lag behind the industry target of getting 75% of their healthcare staff the shots, according to tracking from the AARP. Roughly 60% of nursing home staffers are fully vaccinated, leaving residents — even vaccinated ones — vulnerable to infection due to the delta variant of COVID-19.
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Original Author: Cassidy Morrison