Hospitals mandate employees be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Sept. 30

Jul. 14—Two hospital networks with affiliates in southeastern Connecticut are requiring that their employees be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of September or face consequences that include being fired.

In separate, virtual news conferences Wednesday, officials from Hartford HealthCare, which includes Backus Hospital in Norwich, and Yale New Haven Health, whose members include Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London and Westerly Hospital, said they were implementing a policy recommended weeks ago by the Connecticut Hospital Association.

The vaccination mandates come with the number of COVID-19 cases in the state ticking upward.

Gov. Ned Lamont's office reported Wednesday that 141 new cases had been detected among 11,030 test results, a one-day positivity rate of 1.28%, the highest since May. For Saturday through Tuesday, the positivity rate had been 0.97%. Statewide hospitalizations declined by five Wednesday, falling to 30.

In recent days, more than half the new cases have been attributed to the so-called delta variant, a mutated form of the coronavirus that causes the disease, health officials say.

While Hartford HealthCare is allowing clinical staff members and employees to apply for exemptions from the vaccination mandate, "our expectation is that unless there is a compelling and important reason, we expect you to be vaccinated," Dr. James Cardon, the network's chief clinical integration officer, said, delivering a message to employees. "If not vaccinated by the end of September, there could be consequences, including not being able to work for us at Hartford HealthCare."

Yale New Haven Health's policy calls for employees to receive a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine by Aug. 31 and to be fully vaccinated by Sept. 30. Failure to meet the deadlines will trigger a series of warnings, leading to suspension and ultimately termination, said Vin Petrini, vice president of public affairs.

As it does with mandated flu vaccinations, Yale New Haven Health will consider "spiritual and medical" exemptions to its COVID-19 vaccination mandate, said Dr. Thomas Balcezak, the system's chief clinical officer.

"If someone believes that they have a strongly held spiritual belief that precludes them from getting this vaccine, we have an application process ...," he said. "They'll make an application and it'll be reviewed by individuals from occupational health, human resources and our spiritual care department, and they will possibly be interviewed and they will be granted or not."

Both Balcezak and Dr. Ulysses Wu, systems director, infectious diseases, for Hartford HealthCare, said there are few medical reasons for not being vaccinated against the coronavirus disease. A reason for not getting a second dose would be an adverse reaction to the first dose, they said. Employees undergoing chemotherapy or being treated with immunosuppressants also could be exempt.

Doctors and hospital officials said they are confident in requiring the vaccines because their safety and effectiveness have been so thoroughly demonstrated.

Keith Grant, Hartford HealthCare's system director for infection prevention, noted that in May, 99% of the COVID-19 patients who died in the United States were people who had not been fully vaccinated.

"Our destiny as humans is that you will either get COVID or get a vaccine," Balcezak said. "The only way to not get it, is to get the vaccine."