Florida doctors’ offices join hospitals in demanding vaccines for staff
Delta variant of the facts COVID-19, the highly contagious virus
The delta variant accounts for up to 80% of new COVID-19 cases in the United States in July. Unvaccinated people are more likely to catch the virus.
Christine Sanchez, Wochit
Large medical practices around Florida are starting to require their employees to get vaccinated, which could become widespread as the COVID-19 delta variant continues to hold sway over new infections and hospitalizations.
The Fort Myers-based Florida Cancer Specialists and Research Institute, with 100 sites in all 67 counties, announced this week that it requires its staff to receive their first dose by the end of August and be fully immunized by the end of August. October 1st.
The cancer group has 250 physicians on its roster and 4,200 employees statewide.
“The outbreak and widespread negative impacts of variant COVID-19 cases are a serious concern,” Chief Executive Officer Nathan Walcker said in a statement. “Many of our patients are immunocompromised or at high risk for serious illness due to existing medical conditions. We are committed to doing all we can to keep them healthy, protect each other and keep our families safe. “
Because “vaccine accessibility is not the issue,” Florida Cancer Specialists has launched a massive communications effort to tackle resistance and apprehension to getting vaccinated, said Dr. Lucio Gordan, president and physician. treating, in a press release.
“As the vast majority of new cases of COVID-19 occur in unvaccinated people, our imperative is to dramatically increase vaccination rates as soon as possible. We believe the mandate is the right thing to do, and we believe the right time to do it is now. “
Ambulatory medical practices follow the example of hospitals in Florida and nationwide who increasingly require their employees to be vaccinated due to the highly contagious delta variant. Employees may be granted exemptions for medical or religious reasons.
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Florida has always been the epicenter of the delta surge nationwide and Friday saw one of its biggest leaps this week in new hospitalizations to 13,427, an increase of almost 4.2% from 12,888 hospitalizations on Thursday, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Social Services.
More than 23% of hospital beds in the state are filled with COVID-19 patients.
The Medical Group Management Association, a national organization with 15,000 practice group members representing 350,000 physicians, said immunization mandates are gaining traction and supporting medical practices that require injections.
“All the scientific evidence has shown that vaccines are the safest and most effective way to control this deadly pandemic,” Dr. Halee Fischer-Wright, President and CEO, said in an Aug. 4 statement. “As we work together to protect our patients and our communities, MGMA supports medical groups that choose to implement policies requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for their employees.”
In the August 3 group’s survey of medical practices with 1,066 responses, 18% said they already have a policy making the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for their employees, while 69% recommend it, but some of them said they would need it once a vaccine was fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration, according to the association.
The medical group’s position follows a long list of national organizations, including the American Medical Association and the American Nursing Association, supporting immunization mandates for all healthcare workers, including workers in healthcare facilities. long term.
“This is the logical fulfillment of the ethical commitment of all healthcare workers to put patients and residents of long-term care facilities first and to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure their health and well-being, “said a joint statement. “We call on all healthcare and long-term care employers to demand that their employees be vaccinated against COVID-19. “
Florida Vaccination Mandates
In southwest Florida, the Collier County NCH nonprofit health care system is demanding that its 4,500 employees, including those in doctor’s offices, be vaccinated by September 16.
Opponents of NCH’s vaccination mandate have staged a rally on August 1 outside NCH North Naples Hospital, with another scheduled for Saturday outside NCH Baker Hospital near downtown Naples.
Baptist Health of Jacksonville announced Tuesday that it will require all of its 12,500 employees to be fully immunized by November 15.
The Collier County-based nonprofit healthcare network with a dozen or more medical and dental centers said its 350 employees must be fully immunized against the virus by October 1.
About 69% of employees have at least one dose, spokeswoman Gabrielle O’Boyle said.
“We recognize the magnitude of this decision and we did not take it lightly,” Emily Ptaszek, President and CEO, said in a statement.
“As a health center focused on serving the most vulnerable, we have a responsibility (to) ensure the safety of our patients, team members and the community while helping to end the pandemic,” she declared.
Healthcare Network is Collier’s only federally-funded organization based on serving underserved populations and is one of the first such clinics in the state to require its employees to be vaccinated.
The healthcare network’s patient base is approximately 50,000 residents of Immokalee, Golden Gate and East Naples. It provided nearly $ 14 million in unpaid care in 2019.
Network staff have played an important role in raising awareness of its patient base for COVID-19 screening, education and vaccination since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
It has administered more than 18,625 tests for the virus and vaccinated more than 11,000 patients and yet began to see more infections in July, similar to outbreaks elsewhere due to the delta variant.
In the Panhandle, Sacred Heart Ascension Pensacola announced in late July that the healthcare system will require all employees, including doctors’ offices, to be vaccinated by November 12.
The mandate applies to all employees, whether or not they provide direct patient care or work remotely or on site. It also includes staff employed by Ascension affiliates and partners, as well as salaried and independent physicians and advanced practice providers, as well as volunteers and salespeople who enter Ascension facilities.
Ascension implemented the new policy after “a thorough moral and ethical analysis,” according to an email sent to staff on July 27 from Ascension Sacred Heart Pensacola president Dawn Rudolph and chief medical officer Dr Peter Jennings.
“This decision is rooted in our mission commitment to lead with quality and safety. As a healthcare provider and as a Catholic ministry, ensure we have a culture of safety for our associates, our patients and our communities. is fundamental to our work, ”the email said. .
In cases where someone cannot get the vaccine due to a health issue or strong religious belief, Ascension will provide a process for requesting an exemption similar to the process used for their annual flu shot. , according to the email.
Millennium will not make vaccines mandatory yet
Another large practice group in Florida, the Millennium Physician Group, with 2,700 employees in 19 counties and headquartered in Fort Myers, does not yet require the vaccine for its workforce but is “looking at ways to encourage vaccination,” said spokeswoman Liza Fernandez said in an email. .
“We are offering a $ 100 incentive to employees who are currently vaccinated or choose to be vaccinated,” she said. “We are not ruling out requiring vaccines; however, for now, we continue to work with our team members through incentives and education and continually reassess our tactics as the pandemic evolves. “
In Lee County, Physicians Primary Care, a large firm with 279 employees, is yet to impose the vaccine, but said that could change.
“We are discussing this topic internally,” said Dr Mary Yankaskas, physician in charge of the group. “We support, recommend and encourage all staff to receive the vaccine. “
Health First in Brevard County will require its more than 9,000 employees to have COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of employment, but not before the FDA lifts the current emergency use authorization and fully approves the vaccine, informed company employees this week.
“As part of our responsibility to protect Brevard County, and after careful and careful discussion, when the FDA lifts the emergency use authorization for a vaccine and fully approves it, as a condition of use, we will require all associates of Health First to receive a COVID-19 vaccine – just like we do for the flu vaccines, “the company said.” We are awaiting FDA approval soon. “
Health First also operates Cape Canaveral Hospital in Cocoa Beach, Holmes Regional Medical Center in Melbourne, Palm Bay Hospital and Viera Hospital.
– Dave Berman of Florida Today contributed.