IU Health says fewer than 300 employees suspended over COVID-19 vaccination mandate

Coronavirus

INDIANAPOLIS – IU Health says fewer than 300 employees have been suspended because of its COVID-19 vaccination requirement.

The healthcare provider set a Sept. 1 deadline for workers to get the vaccine. IU Health said that staff was 97% compliant.

The hospital system has about 36,000 employees. Taken at face value, the 97% figure would mean that more than 1,000 employees faced suspension. That 1,000 figure, however, doesn’t account for deferrals or medical exemptions. IU Health put the number at fewer than 300 suspensions in an email provided to FOX59.

“Vaccinating team members is a safe and effective way to protect patients and help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in facilities and in the community,” IU Health said in a statement.

“Team members who remain out of compliance on Sept. 1 will be placed on a two-week unpaid suspension. During the suspension they will be allowed to return to work if they attest to partial or full vaccination.”

Starla McGraw, a former IU Health employee, quit in August due to the vaccine mandate. She said she wished employees had a say over the choice to require the shot.

“I was completely against getting the vaccine due to health issues, not enough information for me,” McGraw said. “I didn’t think it was right that our employers are trying to tell us that in order for us survive and take care of our families and ourselves that we have to get this shot.”

Experts say this move is legal.

“Employers have had a fair amount of latitude in determining what rules they can make and apply to employees,” said Stephanie Hahn, Attorney at Law PC.

IU Health said its process wouldn’t be complete until mid-September, when it would reveal the number of workers who decided to leave over the vaccine mandate.

Under the company’s policy, workers who refuse to get the vaccine can have their employment terminated. Exemptions were allowed on medical or religious grounds.

In June, a federal judge threw out a lawsuit filed by employees of a Houston hospital system challenging its vaccine requirement. The judge ruled that private employers could require their staffs to get the COVID-19 vaccine, which is a common practice with other vaccinations such as the flu shot.

The FDA gave full approval to the Pfizer vaccine last month.

Franciscan Health is also requiring staff be vaccinated and required employees submit proof of vaccination status by Aug. 31. 

While Franciscan wouldn’t provide the percentage of employees who are vaccinated, it told us officials are working on the logistics of monitoring and enforcing vaccine requirements.

Zach Cattell, with the Indiana Health Care Association, supports the vaccine efforts — including the federal mandate for long-term care staff.

“We’ve been on a steady uptick over the last four weeks of vaccination uptick,” Cattell said. “We’ve gone from 51 percent to 56 percent and I expect that to continue to grow.”

However, he’s concerned why it was only for long-term care and not for other health care facilities. 

“It doesn’t make sense when a person leaves a nursing home for some place that doesn’t have a mandate,” Cattell said. “They’ll be exposed, at risk of encountering other unvaccinated health care workers.”

Major companies in Indiana are also requiring vaccination. Eli Lilly is giving employees until Nov. 15. Salesforce is requiring employees in the office be vaccinated and it’s allowing the option of remote work.

Ascension-St. Vincent, Franciscan Health and Community Health Network are also mandating the vaccine. At this time, Community Health reports more than 70% of their staff are in compliance but have until Sept. 15.

Franciscan Health has required all of its employees to submit proof of vaccination status by Aug. 31. The percentage of the workforce that is already vaccinated is not available at this time. 

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