- The NCH Healthcare System in Collier County is requiring all employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Sept. 16.
- It’s the first hospital system in Southwest Florida to mandate the vaccine.
- Roughly 75 hospital systems nationwide are now requiring their workforces to be vaccinated, according to a tally by Becker’s Hospital Review as the highly contagious delta variant has swept across all states.
- All employees who are not vaccinated or have an approved medical or religious exemption will be required to be tested weekly for the virus and they must wear an N-95 mask on the job and they will not be eligible for any cash bonuses or incentives.
The NCH Healthcare System in Collier County is requiring all employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Sept. 16, becoming the first hospital system in Southwest Florida to mandate the vaccine.
The policy announcement Friday by the nonprofit hospital is a change from plans unveiled July 21 requiring only new employees, contractors and volunteers to be vaccinated starting mid-August.
The across-the-board vaccine requirement for the system’s roughly 4,500 employees was made after the policy was endorsed by the medical staff executive committee in an effort to keep employees healthy, NCH said in a news release.
Roughly 57% of NCH’s workforce is vaccinated already although the number may be higher because some employees may not have reported getting the shots elsewhere, according to Renee Thigpen, chief human resources officer.
According to NCH’s website, 22 employees have tested positive for the virus or are isolating due to family or community exposure.
The policy change was led by physicians on the medical staff for the health and safety of all staff and was not tied to the 22 employees who are out because of infection or exposure, Thigpen said.
Last week, Florida became the epicenter of new infections in the U.S. with 73,199 new infections, the most since January, yet Gov. Ron DeSantis at a press conference in Cape Coral on Friday said the state will not face any future lockdowns or mandates for masks in public or vaccine requirements.
DeSantis also said he will sign an executive order to make masks optional in Florida schools.
Roughly 75 hospital systems nationwide are now requiring their workforces to be vaccinated, according to a tally by Becker’s Hospital Review as the highly contagious delta variant has swept across all states.
The new wave of infections is predominantly impacting unvaccinated individuals although there are some breakthrough cases among people who have gotten inoculated that is raising speculation if and when vaccine boosters will be needed.
The Department of Veteran Affairs also announced this past week that the vaccine is mandatory for all health-care personnel after the death of four employees in recent weeks, where at least three of the deaths were tied to the delta variant.
What about Lee Health in Lee County and Physicians Regional Healthcare System in Collier County?
Elsewhere in Southwest Florida, the publicly-operated Lee Health in Lee County and the for-profit Physicians Regional Healthcare System, also in Collier, continue to have voluntary vaccine policies for their employees.
Lee Health reported Friday 238 hospitalized patients with COVID-19, 23 on ventilators. Physicians Regional reported 51 COVID-19 patients.
NCH had 97 COVID-19 patients hospitalized with the virus, of which 83 were unvaccinated. They range in age from 18 to 100, and 14 of them are on ventilators.
If the pace continues, Lee Health could soon reach its peak of 370 COVID patients last summer; NCH’s peak was 144 COVID patients on July 15, 2020.
Paul Hiltz, president and and chief executive officer of NCH, said employees have done a remarkable job adhering to safety protocols to keep coworkers safe.
“But, after listening to the voice of the physicians, and in the face of rapidly rising COVID hospitalizations, we felt this step was a necessary one to further safeguard the health of our patients and staff,” he said.
Dr. Shawn Patterson, NCH’s chairman of emergency medicine, said the vaccine provides a proven and effective pathway to protect patients and the community.
“Our community looks to us to provide for their medical needs, routine and emergent and it is our duty to protect patients to the best of our ability while they are in our care,” Patterson said. “This represents leadership by example personified. It is without reservation that I endorse this policy.”
The hospitals will introduce an incentive plan that rewards employees who are currently fully vaccinated or become vaccinated.
All employees who are not vaccinated or have an approved medical or religious exemption will be required to be tested weekly for the virus and they must wear an N-95 mask on the job and they will not be eligible for any cash bonuses or incentives, according to the hospital.