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Despite protests, 98% of Henry Ford Hospital workers get COVID vaccinations

Henry Ford health system
Henry Ford Health System said it was losing about 400 workers who had refused to get a COVID vaccine, but was working rapidly to replace them. (James R. Martin / Shutterstock.com)

Oct. 5: 400 workers out, 1,900 exempt after Henry Ford COVID vaccine mandate
Sept. 27: Michigan hospitals eye nurses in other countries to fill COVID shortage
Sept. 15: ER’s nearly full, Beaumont asks patients to go elsewhere if possible

With the threat of job loss and a new federal mandate, nearly all of Henry Ford Health System’s staff got vaccinated for COVID-19 or sought a religious or medical exemption.

In June, the Detroit-based system became the first hospital in Michigan to mandate vaccines among its staff, students, volunteers and contractors.

 

Despite protests and the threat of litigation, 98 percent of the system’s 33,000 workers were fully or partially vaccinated or in the process of obtaining a religious or medical exemption when the requirement went into effect Friday, Henry Ford officials said Monday.

Related:

Exemptions comprise less than 1 percent of staffers, while the remaining workers who haven’t been vaccinated face a three-week unpaid suspension if they continue to refuse.

“Those team members will then have until Friday, Oct. 1, to change their mind,” Bob Riney, Henry Ford’s president of healthcare operations and chief operating officer, said Monday during a media conference.

“If they receive the first dose before Oct. 1, they can immediately return to work. Should a team member choose not to get vaccinated by Oct. 1, they will voluntarily resign from our organization.”

Employees who refuse vaccinations and “voluntarily resign,” would be allowed to reapply for their jobs once they are vaccinated, Riney said. Those who refuse to be vaccinated or voluntarily resign will be fired, he said.

Precise numbers of refusers weren’t available Monday, but the low numbers appear to show that while vaccine mandates remain divisive with the public, most workers eventually get the shots to keep their jobs.

Another system, Houston Methodist Hospital in Texas, had only 153 of 25,000 employees quit or be fired when it became the first hospital network in the nation to require inoculations as a condition of employment in April.

(In general, legal experts say those who are fired for refusing vaccines cannot qualify for unemployment benefits because they violated company policy.)

Henry Ford’s announcement follows President Joe Biden’s decision Thursday to require all workplaces with more than 100 employees to mandate vaccinations or weekly testing. 

The rule, which also covers all hospital workers, would impact 100 million workers nationwide and more than 2 million in Michigan.

Even before Biden’s announcement, most — but not all —  large hospital systems in Michigan had followed Henry Ford’s lead and required vaccines. That’s been a gambit for providers, who are struggling to attract and keep workers amid a pandemic.

The shortages forced Henry Ford to close 120 general medicine and intensive care beds, Dr. Adnan Munkarah, the system’s executive vice president and chief clinical officer said Monday. 

He said the closures have not affected patient care because they are spread throughout the system, which has five hospitals and 2,000 beds.

Riney said vaccine rates have increased because of Biden’s mandate and  the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s decision in August to give full approval to the Pfizer vaccine, eliminating the worry among some that they were being asked to be vaccinated with an unlicensed vaccine. 

“We believe that that tipped the scales for some team members who are on the fence,” Riney said.

Henry Ford’s decision had prompted protests from hundreds of workers, but a day after the Biden announcement, staffers dropped their lawsuit challenging the health system’s mandate. They had argued that the mandate violated their constitutional rights.

“Whatever has driven their change of heart, we are encouraged to see so many following the science,” Riney said, speaking generally about those who recently decided to be vaccinated.

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