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United Regional to require all employees, providers to be vaccinated

A decision that has been being made as cases go up and 14 day quarantine policies impact unvaccinated staff who are exposed to the virus
Published: Sep. 8, 2021 at 3:21 PM CDT
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WICHITA FALLS, Texas (KAUZ) - United Regional Health Care System will require all employees and providers to be vaccinated or started the vaccination process for COVID-19 by Nov. 1.

After that, unvaccinated staff without either an approved exemption or a reported vaccine deferral will not be allowed to work.

Temps, travelers, locum tenens, students, and certain contracted service employees are included in this mandate.

A decision that has been being made as cases go up and 14 day quarantine policies impact unvaccinated staff who are exposed to the virus.

“I fully acknowledge and recognize this decision will not be fully embraced. It will not be popular but we do think it will be the right decision for our organization and for our community,” said Phyllis Cowling, President & CEO of United Regional.

Confirmation of full vaccination must be shown unless the employees have an approved medical/disability, religious exemption or qualify for a six-month deferral due to recently testing positive for COVID.

“So far, those lawsuits that have been filed particularly the one I’m very familiar with the Houston Methodist that was really the first to require vaccinations, so far at least from a legal perspective, that has all been held in their favor,” said Cowling.

All staff will still be required to wear masks; however, those unvaccinated due to an approved exemption or deferral will be required to wear an N95 mask, submit to weekly/regular testing, and ensure social distancing at all times.

“We have an increasing number of our patients that are asking that their staff be vaccinated. We were looking at various options prior to the approval, we knew what decision came about that would influence what we ultimately do,” said Cowling.

United Regional had 100 COVID patients in-house as of Sept 7, which is nearing the high-water mark in late December.

The news release from United Regional can be found below:

The COVID vaccine has proven to be highly safe and effective in thwarting the spread of the virus. While not 100% effective, the vaccine generally reduces the severity of the virus if breakthrough does occur.

Additionally, under OSHA’s COVID-19 Healthcare Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS) that went into effect at the end of June 2021, the requirements for quarantining staff after a potential exposure are significantly greater for unvaccinated individuals than for vaccinated individuals. In other words, when a potential exposure occurs in the healthcare workplace (regardless of the source of that exposure – patient, coworker or visitor), all unvaccinated employees/providers on that unit must be quarantined for 14 days according to OSHA (and health department) protocols. Based on United Regional’s current staff vaccination levels, that number could be significant and could impact its ability to deliver patient care.

As such, and in light of the FDA’s recent full approval of the Pfizer vaccine for individuals 16 years of age and older, United Regional will soon begin requiring the COVID vaccine for all staff. Effective November 1, employees and medical staff members (including temps, travelers, locum tenens, students, and certain contracted services) must show confirmation of full vaccination, as defined, unless they have an approved medical/disability or religious exemption or qualify for a 6-month deferral due to recently testing positive for COVID.

“This was a very difficult decision,” said Phyllis Cowling, President and CEO. “I recognize the political and cultural climate of our community, and I realize that feelings run strong on both sides of the vaccine divide.”

After November 1, unvaccinated staff without either an approved exemption or a reported vaccine deferral, will not be allowed to work.

“I considered our responsibility as a healthcare organization, existing with the community’s expectation and trust that we will do our best to provide excellence in health care for those we serve,” said Ms. Cowling. “To effectively do so, we must first set expectations for ourselves as an organization.”

All staff, regardless of vaccination status, will still be required to wear masks in United Regional facilities; however, those who are unvaccinated due to an approved exemption or deferral will be required to wear an N95 mask, submit to weekly/regular testing, and ensure social distancing at all times (including when eating/drinking without a mask).

As of last night, September 7, United Regional had 100 COVID patients in-house, very close to the high-water mark in late December. The vast majority of hospitalized COVID patients are unvaccinated. United Regional continues to be full in critical care and unable to accept critical transfers from the region. On the outgoing end of transfers, multiple children’s hospitals, including Cook Children’s, are likewise overwhelmed, leaving United Regional to care for pediatric patients and newborns that would otherwise transfer out.

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