By Jack Phillips
Days after announcing that about 375 healthcare employees would be suspended, a North Carolina-based hospital system confirmed Monday that around 175 workers were fired in one of the largest-ever mass terminations due to a COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
Several days ago, Novant Health announced that around 375 of its employees had been suspended and were given five days to comply with the company’s mandate.
“They will have an opportunity to comply over a five-day, unpaid suspension period,” the company’s release said. “If a team member remains non-compliant after this suspension period, he or she will have their employment with Novant Health terminated.”
Since then, “nearly 200 additional team members came into compliance, increasing that rate across Novant Health to over 99 percent,” Novant spokeswoman Megan Rivers told news outlets on Monday. “So fewer than 200 were non-compliant,” it said, confirming that the rest were terminated for not complying with the mandate.
The Winston-Salem-based hospital system includes 15 hospitals, 800 clinics, and hundreds of other facilities across four states, including Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia. More than 35,000 people are employed by the company.
Rivers’ statement said that those who have submitted an approved religious or medical exemption can still work there. Employees who are exempt from the vaccine have to undergo weekly COVID-19 testing, wear N95 respirator masks, and wear eye protection while working on the premises, according to the hospital system, which didn’t elaborate on how many exemptions were granted.
Workers who have gotten their first of a two-dose vaccine series made by Pfizer or Moderna have until Oct. 15 to get the second dose, according to Novan’s news release last week.
It comes weeks after Indiana University Health, the biggest hospital system in the state, fired about 125 workers for not complying with its vaccine mandate, the company announced in a news release.
“Indiana University Health has put the safety and well-being of patients and team members first by requiring employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Sept. 1,” the company said in a Sept. 16 statement. “After a two-week unpaid suspension period ending Sept. 14, a total of 125 employees, the equivalent of 61 full-time employees, chose not to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and have left the organization.”
In New York state, healthcare workers had until Monday to comply with a statewide mandate directing them to either get the COVID-19 vaccine or not work. Ahead of the order, New York hospital executives had expressed worry that the move would force their systems to shutter certain services, including maternity wards and elective surgery departments.
Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo suspended elective inpatient surgeries and had stopped accepting intensive-care patients from other hospitals over the mandate, spokesman Peter Cutler told Reuters. Curtailing some operations would inconvenience patients and hurt hospital finances, he said, adding that the procedures bring in about $1 million per week.
“We had to make a decision as to where we could temporarily make some changes so that we could ensure other areas of services are as little affected as possible,” Cutler told the outlet. “Financially, it’s a big deal.”
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