Recent EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) guidance permits hospitals to require or incentivize staff members to be vaccinated for COVID-19. Healthcare administrators who have experienced pushback from employees unwilling to comply with a proposed mandate are now faced with the challenge of how to impose it. With the Food and Drug Administration’s full approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on August 23, 2021, the argument some medical staff members have used, citing a rushed process, has lost its validity. Health departments of a few states, like New York, have even announced that religious exemptions would not be an available alternative to vaccination.
This guide will help healthcare systems and medical organizations navigate, explain, and enforce mandatory vaccination policies at your facility.
How to Communicate Your Policy
Most would argue that healthcare providers who choose not to get the COVID-19 vaccine risk putting themselves, their patients, and everyone they encounter at a disadvantage for contracting the virus. More than any other business, a hospital owes a duty of care to its patients to protect them. The risk of litigation could come when an affected patient claims that the virus was contracted from an unvaccinated provider.
Taking steps to mandate the vaccine comes with a lot of uncertainty. Many administrators fear being left with a staffing shortage if they force the issue. How you communicate your policy to staff members will play a significant role in how likely they comply.
1. Call a Staff Meeting
A vaccine policy is a sensitive subject that should be handled by one individual addressing everyone simultaneously, in the same manner. Therefore, assemble a meeting of the entire staff so that everyone can be communicated with at the same time.
Announce the mandate to the workforce as a whole. Focusing on employees who are not yet vaccinated, either individually or as a group, will cause them to feel like they are being singled out. When you let the entire team know collectively that vaccines are necessary, you help promote the idea that “we are all in this together, so let’s work this out for the best of everyone.”
When the announcement of a mandatory vaccine is made in this manner, it can help some who are still on the fence feel as though it is essential for everyone on staff to do their part.
2. Explain the Vaccine Requirement
Explain, or have someone your employees trust explain the science behind the vaccine without being patronizing or confusing to the audience. Discuss the history of the pandemic to bring everyone up to speed on all developments. Ensure to include information from the EEOC, FDA, CDC, and other national organizations that are in charge of communicating changes and guidelines concerning the pandemic to the public.
Make sure to express appreciation to all for working through these trying times. Set clear expectations to avoid misunderstandings.
3. Make the Consequences of Noncompliance Known
Employees should know what the consequences will be should they refuse to comply. For example, some facilities are requiring weekly testing, social distancing, mask-wearing, and frequent hand-washing measures, while others are calling for termination.
Many institutions are giving their employees a designated amount of time, like one or two months, to comply.
4. Offer Support for Employee Concerns
Communication is the key to helping employees understand why a policy is being enforced. Administration and HR should be available to answer questions and discuss employees’ concerns to let them know that they are valued and cared for.
Make it easy for staff members to get the vaccine by covering any costs associated with it. For example, provide paid time off to get the vaccination and recover from potential side effects.
5. Discuss Reasonable Accommodations
For those with medical and religious exemptions, accommodations should be explored. Discuss the matter privately with affected employees.
In some instances, accommodation can mean working from home. However, because patient care usually requires face-to-face contact, this may not be feasible for your employees. In this case, frequent testing and wearing a mask at all times may suffice. However, if an employee not being vaccinated interferes with the job being done, and all efforts to reasonably accommodate an employee fail, termination may be the only possible avenue.
6. Put Your Policy in Writing
Follow up with staff by distributing written communication that includes everything you discussed. This way, employees can refer to it on their own. Let them know that you or someone in HR will be available if they have any additional questions or want to discuss things further.
With your legal department, you should finalize the wording of your policy. Then, make sure every employee receives a hard copy of the policy and understands what is expected.
Find the Best Providers with VISTA
Mandatory hospital vaccination policies will vary from state to state. Here at VISTA, we understand each system has its own rules and regulations. Let VISTA find the right clinician who is ready to join your team and adhere to your requirements.
VISTA offers staffing solutions that allow your system to maintain continuity of care in over 60 specialty fields. With over 30 years of expertise and a vast network of industry partners, we are proud to be your trusted, transparent, and accountable staffing partner. Our staffing solutions are designed to meet each healthcare system’s specific needs. Contact a VISTA expert today to get started!