GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Mercy Health workers in West Michigan will have to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to keep their jobs after parent company Trinity Health announced Thursday it would require the shots.
Trinity Health said in a release that “all colleagues, clinic staff, contractors, and those conducting business in its health care facilities” must be vaccinated. It has set rolling deadlines, but most must get their shots by Sept. 21. Those who don’t show proof of vaccination by then will be fired.
Some exceptions may be granted based on health or religious reasons. Those medical exemptions include being pregnant or planning to become pregnant within the coming year because research on use of the vaccine in pregnant women is ongoing.
In all, the mandate affects some 117,000 employees in 22 states. That includes 24,000 workers in Michigan. About 10,000 are at Mercy Health Saint Mary’s in Grand Rapids, Mercy Health Mercy Campus in Muskegon, Mercy Health Lakeshore Campus in the village of Shelby and Mercy Health Physician Partners. The rest are at at Saint Joseph Mercy Health System hospital and the IHA group in southeastern Michigan.
Trinity, which previously strongly encouraged but did not require the vaccine shots, said it estimates about 75% of its workers have already gotten at least one dose.
“We’ve been thinking about (this requirement) for a while. As a health care system, we try to be a trusted partner in health. And part of trust is that when people come to our facilities, to our hospitals, there’s an assumption that we’re safe. And when 1 out of 4 of your staff are not vaccinated, potentially, we don’t consider that safety. So that was paramount to our decision,” Rob Casalou, president and CEO of Trinity Health Michigan and Southeast Regions, told News 8 in a Zoom interview Thursday. “The other, in terms of timing, was the aggressiveness of the recent variant, the delta variant, and the concern about more variants as many people remain unvaccinated.”
He said he knows this may lead some employees to leave Trinity hospitals.
“We understand that. We’re going to work really, really hard here over the next few weeks to prevent that from happening,” Casalou said. “Many of the staff who have not been vaccinated yet, many of them are just still concerned about the safety of the vaccine or they feel that it’s an under an EUA (emergency use authorization), it’s not fully approved, and there’s some fear. And so we have a lot of data to share that shows the safety and effectiveness. We want to help people feel comfortable with getting the vaccine, like many of us have been. And my hope is most people stay.”
He noted that the hospital system has required workers to get vaccinated against influenza for many years.
Henry Ford Health System on the southeastern side of the state announced a similar COVID-19 vaccine requirement late last month. Casalou said he expects more hospital systems to follow suit and that eventually, all systems may require the COVID-19 vaccine.
“We stand by the science and the safety and we think it’s the right thing to do,” Casalou said.
Spectrum Health, West Michigan’s largest health care provider and also the region’s largest employer, told News 8 in a Thursday statement that it continues to ‘strongly encourage’ workers to get the vaccine but that vaccination in not currently mandatory. It said nearly 70% of people working in person have been vaccinated.
“Spectrum Health strongly encourages our team members to become vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus. We provide information necessary for people to make an informed decision and offer the vaccine in numerous safe and convenient locations throughout the health system. At this time, it remains optional and is not mandatory for team members. Nearly 70% of our on-site team members have been vaccinated. We continue to practice active infection control measures, including heightened cleaning protocols, masking in all clinical areas and a daily symptom survey for all on-site team members. Additionally, we continue to monitor positivity and vaccination rates in the community and among our team members.”Spectrum Health
Across the state of Michigan, 62% of all residents age 16 and up have gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. The state is aiming for 70%. In an effort to reach that goal, state health officials have partnered with Meijer to host a sweepstakes giving away some $5 million in cash prizes and scholarships to those who get at least one dose.