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The Big Story: 178 hospital workers suspended for not complying with coronavirus vaccination policy

Houston Methodist took a hard line on employee vaccinations for COVID-19 and is under fire for enforcing that rule. Neither the mandate nor the protest is a surprise – a big talking point all year has been, “Can and should healthcare organizations mandate COVID-19 vaccines?”

Our Take

(3-minute read)

The bad news: No matter what you do, someone isn’t going to be happy about it.

The good news: There’s a certain freedom and clarity in knowing that you can’t please everyone. When grounded in mission, it’s an opportunity to do the best you possibly can and then rest assured.

Advice: Mandates are a tough call for healthcare leaders. Whatever you choose be clear.

Now let’s get down to brass tacks. Most people want healthcare workers to be vaccinated. Our own poll from Spring found that 79 percent of Americans believe healthcare workers should be required to be vaccinated. Out of Houston Methodist’s roughly 26,000 staff members, 99 percent got their shot – just over 600 received an exemption or were allowed to defer and 178 refused. Pretty impressive.

Yet questions are swirling as to whether vaccine mandates are legal. Just check out the lawsuits making their way through the courts. One look at the protests at Houston Methodist and you can quickly discern that not all healthcare workers are keen to comply.

This isn’t an easy call. We spoke with David Pate, MD, JD, former CEO of St. Luke’s Health System and our resident expert on this dicey and consequential topic. From that conversation and what we’re hearing from our client network, we know that many leadership teams are making that call based on the following decision framework:

  1. What legitimate reasons do you have as a healthcare provider for mandating staff vaccination? For staff, patients and community.
  2. What other vaccinations are currently required?
  3. Who does the mandate cover – from physicians to vendors to volunteers?
  4. What exemptions are there?
  5. Will vaccinated employees be identified? How?
  6. What changes to current precautions will be permitted for the fully vaccinated?
  7. Who will be educating your workforce about the process for vaccination and answering questions about its safety and efficacy?
  8. Should you first seek voluntary compliance with incentives?
  9. What are the consequences for refusal to get vaccinated?
  10. Do state laws against vaccine passports apply to healthcare employers?

Once you’ve made a decision on your organization’s position, consider these seven communications practices before uttering a sentence or sending your first “Dear Colleagues” email. Above all, know that tension grows when communication is confusing. Inconsistency breaks trust.

  • Explain clearly and often the reasoning and logic behind your decision.
  • Connect your decision with your mission of care for patients and employees.
  • Provide venues for those who feel negatively impacted to voice concerns. Acknowledge their insight, it’s valuable, even if you are staying the course.
  • Define the terms to avoid: “Why does this apply to me and not to them?” Don’t let nuanced decisions appear to be arbitrary double-standards.
  • Prepare for pushback and special requests. Patients may ask to see clinicians who are vaccinated – or demand proof. Have procedures and messaging in place to respond.
  • Put the decision in context. Discuss what other measures you’re taking. If mandating the vaccine, explain who is exempt and any additional precautions they must take. If you’re not requiring vaccinations, lay out plans to keep patients and staff safe.
  • Give people steps they can take. Encourage actions that will promote public health. Reinforce existing guidelines and best practices, voluntary vaccination. Educate people on the benefits of doing so: getting back to “normal.”

Want this information in an easy-to-use resource? Download the one-page checklist here.