Ascension Wisconsin said Tuesday that it will require employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine by Nov.12, becoming the third large health system in Wisconsin to impose the mandate.
Ascension said the requirement will apply to all employees, excluding those medical or religious exemptions, whether they work at its hospitals and clinics or remotely.
It also will apply to people employed by subsidiaries and contractors, independent physicians and other health care providers not employed by the health system, volunteers and vendors entering its buildings.
The health system will have 13,000 employees and 17 hospitals in Wisconsin after seven hospitals are sold to Aspirus on Aug. 1. Nationally, Ascension Health has 160,000 employees.
Last week, the American Hospital Association and more than 50 groups called for mandatory vaccinations, excluding exemptions for medical or religious reasons, for employees who work in health care and long-term care facilities.
The joint statement included the American Medical Association, American Academy of Family Physicians, American College of Physicians, American Nursing Association and Association of American Medical Colleges.
It also included LeadingAge, which represents nonprofit nursing homes and organizations that provide aging services.
“This is the logical fulfillment of the ethical commitment of all health care workers to put patients as well as residents of long-term care facilities first and take all steps necessary to ensure their health and well-being,” the joint statement said.
SSM Health, which has seven hospitals in Wisconsin, was the first health system in Wisconsin to announce that it would require employees, excluding those given exemptions, to be vaccinated by the end of September.
“There is a deadly pandemic that is spreading this infection across the globe and here in the United States, and there is a solution to it,” said Mo Kharbat, vice president of pharmacy services in Wisconsin for SSM Health. “There is a vaccine that can prevent its spread.”
“We don’t want our patients coming to our hospitals thinking they may get the infection,” he added. “And one way for us to reassure our patients that this is a safe environment is when they know the health care providers who are taking care of them are vaccinated.”
SSM Health estimates that 80% to 85% of its roughly 13,500 employees in Wisconsin have gotten the COVID-19 vaccine.
The heath system has hospitals in Madison, Janesville, Baraboo, Monroe, Waupun, Ripon and Fond du Lac.
Mayo Clinic Health System, which has seven hospitals in Wisconsin, announced on Monday that it would require employees to be vaccinated by Sept. 17.
It has hospitals in La Crosse, Eau Claire, Sparta, Barron, Osseo, Bloomer and Menomonie.
“Our patients expect to be safe when they come to Mayo Clinic, and we need to do everything we can to protect our team members, patients and communities,” Gianrico Farrugia, a physician and president and CEO of the health system, said in a statement.
Mayo Clinic cited the increase in COVID-19 cases nationally, poor vaccination rates in many communities, and the threat of variants of the virus for its decision.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that 99.5% of hospital deaths from COVID-19 in the United States are from unvaccinated individuals, Mayo Clinic said. And people who are unvaccinated are at higher risk of spreading the disease to others.
The 12 other large health systems in Wisconsin — contacted by email this week — said they are not requiring employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Marshfield Clinic Health System, however, said that its policy may change “very soon.”
Mercyhealth said it will make the vaccination mandatory “at a future time.” Becky Rose, a spokeswoman for Mercyhealth, said in an email that the health system is not releasing any information on when the requirement would take effect.
Most health systems require flu vaccines for their employees. They initially held off on requiring the COVID-19 vaccine because it was approved by the Food and Drug Administration under what is known as “emergency use authorization.”
In recent months, though, dozens of health systems throughout the country have moved to mandating the vaccine for employees. And on Monday the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs said it would mandate COVID-19 vaccines.
Houston Methodist Hospital was the first health system to impose the requirement on its employees. A federal judge subsequently dismissed a lawsuit filed by former workers who refused to get vaccinated.
About 150 employees —out of roughly 25,000 — resigned or were fired for refusing to get the vaccine, the Washington Post reported.
“If you work in health care, one way to protect your patients and protect yourself and lead by example is to get the vaccine, so we can stop the spread of infection,” Kharbat of SSM Health said.
The virus is spreading, he said, in communities with low vaccination rates.
“And that’s not a coincidence,” Kharbat said.