FRANKFORT – During his weekly Team Kentucky update last week, Gov. Andy Beshear said hospital executives from 11 health care systems in the commonwealth are announcing the following pledge:
“The health care facilities below are committed to the health and safety of our patients and employees. In support of this commitment, we will all require our health care workforce to initiate a complete COVID-19 vaccination series no later than Sept. 15, 2021.”
The new policy will help health systems respond to a surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the delta variant. Yesterday, the Governor announced 2,583 new cases (the highest since Feb. 3, 2021) and a 10.08% test positivity rate (the highest since Jan. 24, 2021).
“We have an opportunity for more prosperity, more potential than ever before in my lifetime. We can have the Kentucky that we have always dreamed of. We have that potential at our fingertips,” said Gov. Beshear. “But if we are truly going to realize that opportunity, we must win our war against COVID. If we are going to defeat and not just delay COVID-19, there is one and only one answer. That answer is vaccinations. So each decision that we make has to gauge the impact on getting the unvaccinated to take that shot.”
The health care systems adding this vaccine requirement for staff include: Appalachian Regional Healthcare (ARH), Baptist Health, CHI Saint Joseph Health, King’s Daughters Health System, Med Center Health, Norton Healthcare, Pikeville Medical Center, St. Claire Healthcare, St. Elizabeth Healthcare, UK Healthcare and UofL Health.
In a joint statement, the Kentucky Hospital Association, Kentucky Medical Association and the Kentucky Nurses Association said: “KHA, KMA and KNA support hospitals and health systems amending their existing vaccine policies to require COVID-19 vaccines for their health care employees. Vaccination against COVID-19 is our best tool to prevent spread of the disease, protect our patients and ensure the health and well-being of our hospital workforce and all Kentuckians. We recognize that each hospital and health system is unique and encourage each hospital and health system to determine the appropriate timeline to implement a requirement.”
Executives from each of the 11 health care systems explained why the pledge was necessary in this stage of the fight against COVID-19.
“Despite COVID-19 vaccination education and outreach efforts, the communities we serve, including our ARH health care staff, have not yet reached a critical mass of vaccination to provide sufficient protection for the unvaccinated. We are seeing an alarming rapid increase in COVID-19 delta variant cases in our service area. For these reasons, and in support of our mission to provide a safe work environment for our staff and a safe place of care for our patients, ARH will now require all employees, providers, students, volunteers, vendors and contractors who work within ARH locations in Kentucky and West Virginia to receive full COVID-19 vaccination,” said Hollie Harris Phillips, president and chief executive officer, Appalachian Regional Healthcare.
“We must lead by example by requiring that all Baptist Health employees are fully vaccinated. It is the ethical and responsible thing to do to live our mission of improving the health care of the communities that we serve,” said Gerard Colman, chief executive officer, Baptist Health.
“During times of a public health crisis, there is no greater priority than to ensure the safety of each other, and for those who rely on us for safe care, often when they are most vulnerable. We stand united with Gov. Beshear and other health systems across Kentucky to set an example for the citizens of the commonwealth, so that we may all move past this pandemic together,” said Anthony A. Houston, Ed.D., FACHE, market chief executive officer, CHI Saint Joseph Health.
“As a health care provider, it is very important we take every possible step to safely care for our patients and families. We firmly believe being fully vaccinated from COVID is essential to protect our patients, team members and people in the community that cannot be vaccinated, in particular children under 12 years old,” said Kristie Whitlatch, president and chief executive officer of King’s Daughters Health System (KDHS), who was unable to attend the press conference in person, but signed the pledge on behalf of KDHS.
“I’m encouraged by the increasing number of health care systems and other employers outside of health care now requiring COVID-19 vaccines. The vaccination rate must go up as we fight together to end this pandemic – lives literally depend on it,” said Connie Smith, president and chief executive officer, Med Center Health.
“This delta variant has created a dire circumstance for us, and we need to be proactive for our community. We all chose a career in health care because we’re willing to serve others. This is a time when we can serve our patients, our families, our coworkers and our entire community by protecting ourselves as much as possible, which in turn protects others. This vaccine is the way we can do exactly that,” said Russ Cox, president and chief executive officer of Norton Healthcare (via video).
“Thank you, Gov. Beshear and Dr. Stack, for your leadership in this unprecedented time. I am honored today to be here with my colleagues in this monumental step forward in defeating this virus. Just a month ago I had three COVID patients and only one in the ICU. As of this morning, I had 43 patients in the hospital. Over a third of them are in the ICU fighting for their life. Vaccines are necessary if we are going to win the fight,” said Donovan Blackburn, president and chief executive officer, Pikeville Medical Center.
“This opportunity to collaborate with health systems across the commonwealth is not only a good outcome for our staff and patients it is, in my view, a demonstration of our collective commitment to safety, accountability, and in keeping with our moral and ethical obligation to do no harm,” Donald H. Lloyd II, president and chief executive officer, St. Claire Healthcare.
“With the onset of the new, highly contagious delta variant and recent surges in COVID cases in our facilities and in our communities, we must ensure that all of our associates are protected. We must do our part to keep our patients and communities safe. As health care providers, we must lead by example in creating the safest environment possible for all those we serve, and vaccines provide the strongest protection against the virus by reducing and preventing the spread among patients and peers,” Gary Blank, executive vice president and chief operating officer, St. Elizabeth Healthcare.
“For many of us in medicine, we remember the day that the vaccine became available. It was a huge relief, even amongst the surge that we were having at that time. I think I even described it as the beginning of the end of COVID. Then and now, our best weapon is the vaccine if we want to see an end to this pandemic. However, for us to see that end, we have to work together. Hopefully that reinforces to everyone that the vaccine is safe and effective, and we hope encourages everyone in the commonwealth to think about how they can move forward,” said Mark Newman, MD, executive vice president of health affairs, UK HealthCare.
“Vaccinations are an essential tool in protecting our health care heroes so they will be healthy and ready to help when you need them. While UofL Health was first to announce vaccine requirements in Kentucky, it is now the collective commitment that truly reflects the strength of health care in our commonwealth,” said Tom Miller, chief executive officer, UofL Health.