About 97% of all Valley Health employees have either received the COVID-19 vaccine by the health system’s Sept. 7 deadline or have received an approved exemption, Valley Health said Monday.
When Valley Health announced on Aug. 5 that it was setting a deadline for vaccination, about 75% of its staff and providers had been vaccinated.
“I am extremely proud of our team members’ commitment to the safety of our patients, fellow caregivers and community,” Valley Health President and CEO Mark Nantz said in a news release.
The health-care system — the parent company of six regional hospitals including Winchester Medical Center and Warren Memorial — had said that anyone who didn’t get vaccinated or have an approved reason for remaining unvaccinated would be at risk of being fired.
As of Tuesday, no employees had been terminated for not complying, a Valley Health spokeswoman said.
However, about 100 employees resigned over the two months preceding the Sept. 7 deadline, and 125 employees who had not complied as of Sept. 7 have been suspended and provided a two-week grace period for beginning the vaccine series, according to Nantz.
“Though we are disappointed that some team members have not embraced this safety standard, Valley Health remains over 6,100 caregivers strong,” Nantz said.
The remaining 3% of employees not yet vaccinated could still include people on medical leave or other types of leave, said Dr. Jeffrey Feit, vice president of population health for Valley Health.
Following the August announcement, community members and some Valley Health staff have resisted the mandate, with some standing outside the system’s hospitals holding protest signs.
“Over the last few weeks or months we’ve had slightly higher rates of departure than usual,” Feit noted. However, employees have left for a variety of reasons, he said, and Valley Health is keeping up with staff turnover by actively recruiting.
Feit credits Valley Health’s information campaign with influencing so many staff to recently get vaccinated, including more than 100 “town hall” meetings that it held in recent weeks and months.
“We did a lot of work in town halls … to help people understand the science as we understood it,” he said.
To anyone still uncertain about the vaccine’s safety or effectiveness, Feit encouraged people to turn to whatever reliable scientific source they trust, so long as it isn’t social media.
“Pick a trusted health-care source,” he said. “These [COVID] studies have been available for a while.”
Valley Health was among the first health systems in the nation to add COVID-19 vaccination to its list of required vaccinations for staff, the release says.
Since the August announcement, more than 60 medical associations including the American Hospital Association have endorsed required vaccination for healthcare workers, it says.
Last week, President Joe Biden issued a mandate that all businesses with at least 100 employees must require vaccinations or weekly COVID-19 testing.
Part of a multi-pronged plan to combat the virus, the mandate also affects more than 17 million health care workers employed in facilities that accept Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement, according to whitehouse.gov/covidplan.
Feit said that Valley Health hasn’t included weekly testing as an alternative to employee vaccination because of the unpredictable results. Six out of seven days, he said, a person could still be working in a hospital with COVID.
“While vaccinated individuals can still contract COVID, unvaccinated individuals are more likely to be hospitalized and 11 times more likely to die from the virus,” Nantz said in the release.
The Lord Fairfax Health District, which covers Winchester and the counties of Clarke, Frederick, Warren, Shenandoah and Page, and has reflected recent increases in cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
So far this month, the health district has reported 47 hospitalizations and 10 deaths.
On Thursday, the district reported an additional 142 cases, following spikes of 189 cases on Sept. 11, 188 on Sept. 8 and 184 on Sept. 2 — its three highest spikes since recording 195 new cases on Jan. 30.
Thursday also brought two deaths — one in Frederick County and one in Shenandoah County.
The number of acute-care patients in local hospitals are not quite as high as it was in the winter, Feit said, but it’s close.
“The community really needs to know that within the walls of a hospital, we’re seeing incredibly sick people and we’re seeing daily tragedies for families,” Feit said.
For more information on how to obtain a vaccine, visit valleyhealthlink.com/vaccine.