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Monadnock Community Hospital will mandate COVID-19 vaccination for employees

  • Monadnock Community Hospital will require all staff members to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 8/9/2021 3:56:53 PM

Monadnock Community Hospital will mandate COVID-19 vaccination for all its employees, the hospital announced last week.

The announcement follows last week’s statement by the New Hampshire Hospital Association urging mandatory vaccination across New Hampshire hospitals. Cheshire Medical Center in Keene also announced it will require employees to be vaccinated, as did Genesis HealthCare, which owns and operates Pheasant Wood Center in Peterborough.

Dan Perli, chief medical officer at MCH, said there had already been some discussions both at the hospital and a state-wide level prior to last week’s NHHA statement and the consensus was supportive of a vaccine mandate.

Perli said as cases across New Hampshire rise and the more prevalent signs of the Delta variant increase, this was the time to begin taking a more directed approach when it came to employee vaccinations.

“We’re at a much more significant risk for another surge,” Perli said. “And we need to have a strong and healthy workforce to care for our community. We’re starting to see the cases go up and fall and winter are right around the corner.”

As of late last week, 100 percent of employed physicians had received the COVID-19 vaccine, said marketing and communications manager Phil McFarland, and overall the hospital was in the low- to mid-80s for vaccination rate among employees.

Perli said a task force has been charged with having conversations over the next couple weeks as to how the mandate will be implemented, including a timeline for when employees must be vaccinated. The rollout of the mandate will include education for those employees who have not been vaccinated and conversation to listen to any concerns.

“We want to put in the effort to help our employees understand the importance of getting the vaccine,” Perli said. It will be similar to when the vaccine was first approved and available for frontline workers, something Perli said was effective.

“It’s why we saw such a high vaccination rate,” he said.

Having a vaccine mandate is not new at MCH, as the hospital already mandates flu vaccines for all employees.

“So it’s a process that is familiar,” McFarland said.

Perli said it is unfortunate that there is so much misinformation out there about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine and “some of that has contributed to vaccine hesitancy.” He urged those who have yet to receive the vaccine to discuss it with their physician. He added they will be ramping up clinics and pop-up sites, in partnership with the Greater Monadnock Public Health Network, to increase availability.

“Our focus is going to be centered around listening to the concerns and engaging education,” Perli said.

Perli said the decision also allows MCH to serve as a role model for the community, which will also include an upcoming marketing campaign “to give our employees a voice to the vaccination process.” He said he would support local businesses and organizations that follow suit with a mandate.

According to a release following the statement, MCH officials said that “across New Hampshire, 52% of eligible populations are fully vaccinated. In the Monadnock Region, MCH serves towns with vaccination rates well below the state’s average.”

“We need to be better prepared as a community,” Perli said. “And we have to do what’s best for our employees, our patients and our community.”

“Ensuring a safe environment for our employees, patients, visitors and volunteers is our number one priority,” said Cyndee McGuire, MCH President and CEO. “Over the next several weeks, leadership across the organization will meet to plan next steps, which will include educational materials and support, across the organization. Here at MCH, our employees are our greatest asset and this decision reflects our commitment to provide a safe working environment.”

Genesis HealthCare spokesperson Lori Mayer said 77 percent of staff are vaccinated at Pheasant Wood Center. Mayer said getting a COVID-19 vaccination will be a condition of employment as well as participating contractors, partners, volunteers, etc. She said there are two potential valid exemptions for an employee who chooses to decline the COVID-19 vaccine: medical or religious. If an exemption is not granted, the unvaccinated employee may be subject to termination, she said.  

According to a release from Genesis HealthCare, the Company’s Universal Vaccination Policy requires current staff, visiting providers, care partners, and onsite vendors to have a single dose of the Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine or the first dose of a two-dose (Pfizer or Moderna) vaccine by Aug. 23, 2021. If applicable, the second dose would be needed by Sept. 22, 2021.

“Our highest priority is for every Genesis-affiliated center across the country to have a relentless focus on serving our patients and residents with high-quality care, in safety, security and comfort, and with respect and dignity,” said Harry Wilson, Chief Executive Officer of Genesis in the release. “Our move to adopt universal vaccination is an incredibly important decision, and we very seriously weighed the competing concerns before proceeding down this path. Despite vaccination rates above the national average, the growing spread of the Delta variant makes clear that we need to increase our vaccination rates substantially to better protect our patients, residents and employees. While we would have greatly preferred a strictly voluntary process, our commitment to health and safety outweighs concerns about imposing a requirement. Universal COVID-19 vaccination provides the safest and most effective course of action to ensure the health and welfare of our patients, residents and staff.”

Lara Shea, CEO of River Mead, said no decision has been made about mandating the COVID-19 vaccine at the Peterborough community, but there have been ongoing discussions about the possibility of instituting a policy and that it was trending in that direction.

Shea said she was thrilled to see larger institutions like MCH and Cheshire Medical make the decision to mandate the vaccine because “it makes it easier for us that are smaller and more local to make that kind of decision.”

She said it is difficult because River Mead wants to respect an individual’s right to choose but “that it has such an impact beyond the individual.” And Shea said a mandate could cause a place like River Mead to lose talented and dedicated employees. Currently, Shea said River Mead has a vaccination rate among employees in the low 70 percent.

A recent study in New Hampshire conducted by the Josiah Bartlett Center using state data reinforced that vaccinated patients are less likely to fall severely ill and require hospitalization. Since the beginning of February, according to state data, unvaccinated individuals have accounted for 99% of New Hampshire’s COVID-19 cases and 98% of deaths.

“It’s the mortality and morbidity that are dramatically reduced,” Perli said.

According to the NHHA statement, “Hospital and health system employee vaccinations against COVID-19 are critical to ensuring safe environments of care for all patients by protecting them from infection, and to mitigating the spread of the virus within healthcare facilities. The scientific evidence behind vaccines has clearly demonstrated that they are safe, highly effective and reduce both transmission and harm, and hospitals already require vaccinations for other highly communicable diseases as an infection control measure.”

“Many regional and national organizations representing medical professionals have recently stated their support for mandated COVID-19 vaccines for healthcare workers to control the spread of this deadly disease, especially  within healthcare facilities,” said Steve Ahnen, president of the New Hampshire Hospital Association, in the NHHA release. “This is absolutely something we support in an effort to protect both our patients and our employees from COVID-19.”

“Our actions are critical to stopping the spread of COVID-19, and we must all remain vigilant and continue taking steps to mitigate the spread of the virus, and most importantly, that means to get vaccinated,” Ahnen added.

To stay informed of the latest news about the COVID-19 and vaccination availability, register to receive vaccine alert emails at www.mchvaccine.org.

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