Hospitals could face a fight with labor unions over mandatory vaccinations against COVID-19, as several hospitals face pushback against plans to require their employees get the vaccine.
Massachusetts’ largest hospital system, which includes Mass General Brigham, Beth Israel Lahey Health, Wellforce, and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, announced last week that their employees will be required to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
"Getting vaccinated right now is the single most important thing that we can do to let our employees know that we are providing the safest environment for patients, their families, and for each other," Dr. Anne Klibanski, chief executive of Mass General Brigham, told The Boston Globe.
Tim Foley, executive vice president of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, a union that represents nurses, technical and clerical workers, responded by saying in a statement that "Vaccination is an important tool to help us move forward, but an employer mandate is not the answer for a healthcare workforce still struggling to recover. A hard-handed approach will create greater frustration.”
David Schildmeier, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Nurses Association, added that the union will look at the individual policies at each hospital before they take sides.
“We have encouraged our members to get the vaccine, and we believe the vast majority have already done so,” he said.
“We’re an institution that is based on science,” Dr. Kevin Tabb, chief executive of Beth Israel Lahey, told the Globe. “We know the vaccine is extraordinarily effective, and we know that it’s safe. … We stand on much stronger moral ground asking others to get vaccinated when we ourselves have been vaccinated.”
Dr. Eric Dickson, the chief executive at UMass Memorial Health Care, said it’s “disappointing” that only 76% of their employees are currently vaccinated.
“I fully anticipate that we will mandate [vaccination] and that other health care systems in the state will,” he said.
“I think we will probably have some people leave their jobs because they don’t want to get vaccinated,” Dickson added, “and that will make it even harder to staff places that are already struggling to get staffing.”
In New York, news that New York-Presbyterian Hospital planned to mandate vaccination was met with the threat of a lawsuit and possibly a strike from the 1199SEIU president, George Gresham.
“Whether there is a legal challenge that we can make, or whether it's just a pure organizational challenge that we can make, we are not going to just give in,” he told WNYC/Gothamist.
1199SEIU is the national Service Employees International Union’s largest local branch. The New York Nurses Association also announced on its website that it “strongly opposes the mandatory vaccination of health care providers for COVID-19.”
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