AURORA, Colo. — A number of Colorado hospitals are announcing they will require employees to be vaccinated for COVID-19 before a mandated deadline.
UCHealth was the first Denver-area hospital to announce the vaccination requirement for employees, providers, volunteers and partners to be vaccinated for COVID-19 by Oct. 1 – those who are not in compliance with the policy will face termination, the hospital system announced on Wednesday.
The hospital will grant exemptions for valid medical or religious reasons – anyone who is granted an exemption will be required to wear a mask at all times in UCHealth facilities and be tested weekly for COVID-19.
> Watch the video above about the delta variant and vaccine efficacy.
“After fighting COVID-19 for more than a year, and as the dangerous delta variant has become the dominant strain in Colorado and elsewhere, it is clear that vaccination against this disease is essential to protect our employees, along with our patients and visitors,” said Elizabeth Concordia, president and CEO of UCHealth.
The policy applies to all employees, medical staff, trainees, volunteers, vendors, medical students and contract staff. To date, nearly 85% of UCHealth’s 26,000 employees have received the vaccine, according to the health system.
A $500 bonus will be given to any employee who is fully vaccinated by Aug. 22.
The vaccine requirement comes as the highly contagious COVID-19 delta variant spreads rapidly across the nation, leading to increasing cases of the disease. UCHealth said their hospitals are now caring for about 85 hospitalized patients with COVID-19 which is up from a month ago.
A vast majority of them have not been vaccinated, according to Dr. Michelle Barron, senior medical director of infection prevention for UCHealth.
“The best way to stay safe from COVID-19 is to get vaccinated as soon as possible,” said Barron. “The vaccines have been proven to be safe and highly effective in preventing severe illness and hospitalization, even from the delta variant.
About 94% of our hospitalized patients are unvaccinated, and even for fully- vaccinated people who get sick, the vaccine reduces the severity of the illness."
UCHealth employees have the option of receiving the vaccine of their choice, which includes two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or one dose of the J&J vaccine.
Banner Health has said that all employees will be required to be vaccinated for COVID-19 by Nov. 1.
The statement said, in part:
"To protect patients, team members and the community, today Banner Health notified its employees that being vaccinated for COVID-19 will be a condition of employment. With limited exceptions, all team members have until Nov. 1 to be fully vaccinated."
In a letter sent to Denver Health staff, the hospital said it will "implement a mandatory COVID- 9 vaccine policy, effective Nov. 1. All employees, contractors, volunteers, residents, and student-interns are required to have received full vaccination for COVID-19 (i.e. two mRNA vaccines or one J&J vaccine).
The statement said the hospital would create an exemption process for medical conditions and religious beliefs – individuals will have the opportunity to send in declinations for review prior to Oct. 15.
Also included in the hospital's statement:
"There is an abundance of safety and efficacy data for the available COVID-19 vaccines. We know that vaccination decreases the risk of COVID-19 infection by 95% and almost eliminates the risk of severe disease, hospitalization, and death.
The decision to have all employees be vaccinated against COVID-19 is critical to our mission to provide safe care to all who come through our doors. By vaccinating all of our employees, Denver Health sends a strong message to the community that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe, effective, and worthwhile for all Denver residents to receive. Several other institutions of higher education, hospitals and employers are joining us and making the same announcements in the coming weeks.
If you have questions about this policy and how it impacts you please speak with your supervisor or direct your questions to email@example.com. Thank you for your continued support."
Children's Hospital Colorado
Children’s Hospital Colorado will require team members to have completed an approved COVID-19 vaccination series by Oct. 1, 2021.
A complete vaccination series of COVID-19 vaccine will be a requirement to work at Children’s Colorado. This policy applies to all employees, medical staff, trainees, volunteers, vendors, medical students and contract staff.
Beginning Oct. 1, 2021, team members who have not received a complete vaccination series of COVID-19 vaccine will be subject to increased PPE requirements, as well as routine COVID-19 PCR testing.
“Our team members have embodied the spirit of a caring community, adapting and persevering through the past 17 months,” said Jena Hausmann, president and CEO of Children’s Colorado. “Vaccines are essential in the fight against COVID-19. With safe and effective vaccines widely available, this decision affirms our commitment to the safety and care for our team members and for those we serve.”
SCL Health will require all Colorado associates and providers, medical staff, contractors, vendors, temporary workers, students, and volunteers to prove COVID-19 vaccination by Nov. 1, 2021.
Anyone in the Colorado groups mentioned above without vaccination documentation or an approved exemption by Nov. 1 will not be allowed to return to work at an SCL Health facility until they are compliant.
Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center
The VA hospital said their health care personnel are required to receive COVID-19 vaccinations under VHA Directive 1193 – which states that all Title 38 health care personnel are required to get fully vaccinated and will work with those employees to ensure their compliance.
VA ECHCS has approximately 1,200 Title 38 employees, all of whom continue to have opportunities to receive their vaccine with the hospital or an outside provider – they have been offering employees COVID-19 vaccines since December 2020.
A hospital spokesperson said working determine their vaccination status and identify possible health or religious exemptions, while working toward compliance with the directive.
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On Friday, July 30, National Jewish Hospital said all employees, caregivers, staff and affiliates need to be vaccinated by Sept. 17.
“The safety of our patients, visitors and staff is foundational in this decision,” said Michael Salem, MD, president and CEO of National Jewish Health. “We have been at the forefront of this battle against COVID-19 since the beginning and firmly believe that the vaccine is the key to how we end this pandemic.”
The hospital said 95% of its 1,700 staff are vaccinated. They added that with cases with the delta variant growing, mandating the vaccine "is necessary and provides the safest path forward."
National Jewish offers free vaccinations for the public without an appointment at its pharmacy Monday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
All of Kaiser's employees and physicians must be vaccinated by the end of September. Unvaccinated employees and physicians will be required to become fully vaccinated for COVID-19 or apply for medical or religious exemption, Kaiser said.
As of July 31, just under 78% of its employees and more than 95% of its physicians were fully vaccinated, Kaiser said.
The legality behind mandating the vaccine
In some U.S. cities, recent protests against a vaccine mandate have erupted outside of some buildings for large health care providers, including in Boise, Idaho and Houston.
9NEWS Legal Expert Whitney Traylor said the short answer is an employer does have the right to mandate a vaccine based on the case law that is out now.
"And I base that on two things. Both the EEOC has issued standards. OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, has issued standards. And I really look to, for example, the EEOC that says the vaccine does not violate the ADA," Traylor said.
Traylor believes that there will likely be some litigation that comes of mandates not only in Colorado, but across the U.S.
However, he believes most cases against a private or public employer mandating the vaccine, would prove very difficult to move forward in court.
"But, of course, somebody could challenge that and say this was an unlawful termination. But remember, these employees are in Colorado, at least if they don't have a contract, which most employees don't, they're at-will employees. Now, that doesn't mean that they can be fired for any old reason. They can't be fired because of their race or religion or their gender. But at the same time, that gives the employer, you know, certain flexibilities. And the employer, the "Catch 22" is that the employer has to provide a safe environment," Traylor said.
He added that there is a difference in the strength of arguments between public employees (i.e. a city employee) and those that work for private companies. However, overturning a case in court against a vaccine mandate would still be tough to come by, he said.
"...those public employees, the rules are a little bit different because they have certain constitutional protections. The courts have actually said that our job is a protected, you know, essentially a protected right. That you have due process, if you will," he said. "So with the public employees, I think they may have a stronger argument to say that mandating it is unconstitutional or a violation of my rights. But even with the public entities, I think they would still win."
Overall, Traylor believes that employers would first try to mitigate the spread of the virus and encourage employees, rather than resort to firing right away.
"...I will say that I don't know of a lot of employers that are taking a hard stand and saying, 'Hey, you don't get it, you're fired,' I think the employers are trying to really encourage them, as I just mentioned. And I think they're trying to take mitigation efforts," he said.