Summa Health — the only health system in the Akron-area that requires employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccination or facial termination — has fired seven employees for refusing to be vaccinated.
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That number is significantly lower than the 180 or 2% of the 8,000 health system workers who failed to comply with the rules in early November.
Vaccine policy required Summa employees to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 31 — or two weeks after their last dose.
About 7%, or 566 employees, applied for a medical or religious exemption. Other employees who failed to comply with the mandate were warned that they would face disciplinary action, including termination.
The low number of workers who refused the vaccine and chose to be laid off matched many health systems that have issued similar mandates, said Dr. Cliff Deveny, president and CEO of Summa, in a recent phone interview.
“I was very pleased and somewhat surprised” the number of workers who refused to be vaccinated was no higher, Deveny said.
“But in the end it made sense. And if you look at other health systems across the country, most of them had handfuls of [of terminations]”They didn’t have hundreds,” he said. “The model was playing out there.”
Deveny said that for those employees who faced disciplinary action leading to termination, there were several factors that led to compliance or non-compliance, including some who had been vaccinated and had not been given a chance to update their vaccine status on others who decided to get the shot when they talked to someone about it.
“Obviously there were people talking more about it,” Deveny said, referring to public protests outside Summa after the mandate was announced.
“Some of the protesters were Summa employees, but not very many,” he said. “I think we took the time with each employee to sit down with our infectious disease people and supervisors, people just needed the actual individual attention to answer their questions and feel like they were involved in the decision. have a lot of stories where during that conversation people said, ‘I get it now’, and they went down and got… [the shot]. That was more common than the ‘damn no, I’m not going’. ”
Deveny said there were “people who were clearly hesitant, scared and misinformed and you had a hard core of ‘I’m not going to do it’.” ”
But even some of the people who were initially against getting the vaccine “went on and did it. At that point, the CMS mandate had already been issued, so there weren’t many places to run to, so to speak. Deveny said, referring to President Joe Biden’s mandate to vaccinate health workers or a Jan. 4 waiver or fines. A federal judge last week temporarily blocked enforcement of the federal mandate for the COVID-19 vaccine by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
More:Federal Judges Stop Biden’s COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate For Federal Contractors, Ohio Health Workers
Summa has also needed a flu vaccine for years, Deveny said. Of his employees, 300 went into disciplinary action for not getting the flu shot and two — who also refused the COVID-19 shot — were fired, he said.
Deveny said he was unable to discuss details of medical deferrals or religious waivers because he was not directly involved in those processes, but all guidelines were followed.
“There are very few reasons why someone should not be vaccinated” [against COVID] of a medical status,” he said. A medical reprieve is usually granted to people who are actively ill or have a medical reason, including “people who may be recovering from radiation or chemo and were immunocompromised,” Deveny said.
Deveny stands by Summa’s decision to mandate the vaccine.
“It was absolutely the right thing to do,” Deveny said, noting that hospitals are increasingly treating COVID-19 patients.
COVID-19 patients fill Akron-area hospitals
On Tuesday, the number of COVID patients hospitalized in Summit County’s four hospital systems continued to climb, matching records not seen since last December. There were 294 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, up from 281 on Monday and not far from the record 318 on December 15, 2020.
The number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in Summit County Tuesday included 144 at Summa Hospitals, 106 at Cleveland Clinic Akron General, 33 at Western Reserve Hospital in Cuyahoga Falls and 11 at Akron Children’s Hospital.
Deveny said the entire infrastructure of hospitals in the region is under pressure from the number of patients hospitalized.
“Akron is in a pretty tough position right now… personally I feel like it’s worse than last year… It’s scary to see what’s going on,” Deveny said.
“I can’t imagine what the burden would have been for the organization if we hadn’t gone down that road,” he said, referring to the vaccine mandate for his own employees.
“This is about doing what’s best for the community and for our patients,” he said. “The people who work here do what’s best for the community and really follow the mission.”
Deveny said Summa has continued to recruit since the mandate was announced, requiring new employees to prove they had at least one COVID-19 vaccine.
“We have continued to hire and train 50 to 60 new employees per week. We don’t notice people running away from Summa,” he said.
An employee is considered fully vaccinated with either one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine or two doses of Pfizer or Moderna.
The booster, which has since been recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention because of declining immunities, isn’t a current requirement or employment condition, Deveny said, “but when we started offering it, significant numbers of workers got their boosters.”
Other hospitals in the area
At the other hospitals in the Akron-area, Akron Children’s has announced it will move forward with requiring its employees to be fully vaccinated or waived by Jan. 4. Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals last week slashed vaccine requirements for workers, while federally mandated roadblocks.
More:Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, Aultman pause mandates for COVID-19 vaccine workers
Cleveland Clinic, which operates Akron General, Mercy Hospital in Canton and Medina Hospital, still encouraged its employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and said about 80% are vaccinated.
Akron Children’s informed its employees in early November that it would cancel the weekly testing option instead of vaccination on January 4. The hospital has extended the deadline to January 11 for employees to be fully vaccinated, waived or discharged. Hospital officials have said about 80% of workers are fully vaccinated.
The Western Reserve Hospital in Cuyahoga Falls, which currently does not require employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, has a staff vaccination rate of 86%.
Beacon Journal staff reporter Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or [email protected] Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ. Visit www.tinyurl.com/bettylinfisher to see her most recent stories and columns.