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Vaccine mandate deadline passes for Novant Health employees

Published: Sep. 16, 2021 at 6:00 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - The deadline for Novant Health employees to be vaccinated is officially up. The mandate announced back in July, went into effect Wednesday night.

The policy was changed earlier this month to give Novant team members more time to be fully immunized. Now employees must have had their first dose of the Pfizer or Moderna shot by Wednesday and both of their shots by October 15.

While NHRMC officials weren’t able to answer any questions about what percentage of their staff has been vaccinated, as of a briefing Tuesday morning, Novant leaders announced 95 percent of the entire Novant system had complied with the mandate.

Earlier this month, Novant officials did answer questions about turnover in the healthcare system as it relates to the vaccine mandate.

“We are seeing some resignations, and the majority of those are not really related to vaccinations. We have a limited number related to the vaccinations, we do have medical and faith based exemptions as well that have some testing components, n95 masks, etc, to be able to continue if you’re an exempt employee, but we haven’t seen a lot of that,” said Dr. Sid Fletcher, Senior VP, and Chief Clinical Officer with Novant Health on September 2.

Beth Etheridge is just one of the latest healthcare workers who has walked away from her job. Her last day at NHRMC was Tuesday.

“It got to the point where mentally and physically, I just couldn’t do it anymore,” said Etheridge. “Things are going to get worse before it gets better, with everyone leaving, COVID still going on, the vaccine issue, there’s a lot to play into it right now.”

While Etheridge cites staffing as the primary reason for her departure, the vaccine mandate was also factored into her decision, and she knows other hospital employees have resigned over it as well.

While 95 percent of the company’s employees were compliant with the mandate as of Tuesday, that remaining 5 percent of staff still in question is needed now more than ever as hospitals see the surge from the delta variant.

“We are functioning, but we’re just managing. That, and we’re incredibly full. I’d say we’re disappointed because our teams are weary, incredibly tired, we have less staff working more hours, and they’ve been at it for 18 months now,” said Dr. Fletcher.

With no end in sight for the pandemic or the staffing troubles, Etheridge is on to the next job. She plans to still continue nursing and has a plea for anyone who might find themselves in a hospital bed.

“We are being pushed to the max and we’re doing the best we can, so you know, be nice to your staff, be nice to your nurses and your aids and what not, because trust me, if you know the other side, you’d understand,” said Etheridge.

A NHRMC spokesperson issued the following statement Thursday in response to questions about the hospital’s vaccine mandate:

“Our mandatory vaccination program is designed to better protect our patients, team members and communities. It is not designed to penalize or discipline team members. Now that the deadline has passed, our teams can begin the work of confirming that the individuals who appear to be noncompliant did not take action. We will not take any steps to remove a team member from work until we have verified their noncompliant status. This is a careful and thoughtful process, and we will not have further updates to provide until all records are reconciled and verification is complete.

Without a vaccine mandate for team members, we faced the strong possibility of having a third of our staff unable to work due to contracting, or exposure to, COVID-19. This possibility only gets greater heading into a fall season with the more contagious and deadly Delta variant. We believe a mandate will do more to preserve staffing levels than impact them.

As a large health care organization, we continually plan for an array of different scenarios that could impact staffing. Staffing contingency plans include float and on-call pools, agency and other staff sourcing. It’s important for our communities to know that we have the continued ability to care for them, and that they should seek care when they need it.”

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