Medical groups urge vaccine mandates for health care workers — what are JoCo hospitals’ policies?

University of Kansas Health System ICU nurse manager Casey Pickering was one of the first people in the Kansas City metro to receive a COVID-19 vaccination when she received her first dose of the Pfizer shot back in January. Some medical groups, including the American Medical Association, say with renewed spread of COVID-19, health care facilities should require their employees be vaccinated. Photo courtesy KU Health System.

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With COVID-19 infections on the rise and the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant increasing across the U.S., hospitals and health care centers nationwide are beginning to implement vaccine policies for their employees, including nurses and front-line health care workers.

The American Medical Association, along with nearly 60 other medical organizations, has called on health care and long-term care facilities to require their workers be vaccinated against COVID-19 in the face of renewed spread of the disease.

The organizations couched their plea as an “ethical obligation.”

“We know the vaccines are safe and highly effective at preventing severe illness and death from COVID-19,” their statement read. “Increased vaccinations among health care personnel will not only reduce the spread of COVID-19 but also reduce the harmful toll this virus is taking within the health care workforce and those we are striving to serve.”

Locally, Truman Medical Center/University Health based in Kansas City, Mo., became the first health care system in the metro to announce it would require all employees to be vaccinated. If the rate of infections continues to spike, other area facilities may follow suit.

Currently, no major health care systems in Johnson County say they are requiring workers be vaccinated against COVID-19, but many say they are monitoring the situation closely and policies could change.

Here are the current vaccination policies for workers at some of the biggest health care systems serving Johnson County:

AdventHealth Shawnee Mission:

  • Advent Health does not currently require its employees to be vaccinated but strongly encourages them to get the shots.
  • According to a spokesperson, about 75% of the AdventHealth workforce is fully vaccinated.
  • Masks are required for all staff, patients and visitors at all times, regardless of vaccination status at all facilities.

KU Health:

  • KU Health also does not require its employees to be vaccinated but, like AdventHealth, strongly encourages it.
  • According to KU Health, about 80% of its workforce are vaccinated. That number may be higher as some employees have received their vaccines elsewhere in the community.
  • A spokesperson also said KU workers’ rate of infection is “significantly below” the community infection rate.

HCA Midwest (Menorah and Overland Park Regional Medical Center):

  • Like other health care systems in the area, HCA Midwest does not require its employees to be vaccinated but strongly encourages it.
  • Given its large network of facilities and employees, HCA said in a statement it does not keep employee vaccination rate statistics.
  • HCA says it does follow current CDC guidelines, including requirements that all employees, patients and visitors wear masks at all times.

Olathe Medical Center:

  • Like the other facilities the Shawnee Mission Post contacted, Olathe Medical Center does not require its employees to be vaccinated at this time but does strongly encourage it.
  • Olathe Medical Center did not provide details on the percentage of employees who have been vaccinated but a statement from the hospital said, “We currently have a high vaccination rate among associates.”
  • Olathe Medical Center said it continues to follow “strict safety precautions and protocols” set by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the CDC regarding wearing masks in all locations of their facilities.

The Post also reached out to St. Luke’s Health System, which operates several facilities in Johnson County, but had not received a response at the time of publication.

Currently, none of the Johnson County health care facilities which responded to the Post’s inquiry say they have plans to mandate vaccinations for employees.