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More than 100 Hartford HealthCare employees out of work after refusing vaccine

 Eric Arlia, director of systems pharmacy at Hartford HealthCare, demonstrates preparation for the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Eric Arlia, director of systems pharmacy at Hartford HealthCare, demonstrates preparation for the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Just over 100 Hartford HealthCare employees — representing 0.3% of the health system’s workforce — have left the organization as of Thursday after refusing to get vaccinated for COVID-19, according to Dr. Ajay Kumar, Chief Clinical Officer.

“We don’t even use the term ‘termination,’” Kumar said. “The individual decided to choose a different path in their career. … We’re very respectful of people’s choices.”

Approximately 98% of 33,000 system employees have been vaccinated, with particularly high coverage among clinical staff, Kumar said. “The positive message: Clinicians and providers actually have all gotten vaccinated,” he said.

Those who have not complied with the hospital’s vaccine mandate hail from different departments across the system, from environmental services to transportation, and no clear patterns have emerged, he said. Demographically, those employees did not overwhelmingly identify as any one race either, he said.

The mandate has not had a significant impact on pre-existing staffing shortages, Kumar said. “It’s not at the level of crisis by any means,” he said.

The number of employees leaving the system is “very low,” Kumar said. But “I was Pollyanna, I was hoping that everyone will get vaccinated,” he said. “I’m losing 109 of my colleagues, which is not a good thing. We don’t take any pride in people leaving our system.”

Connecticut hospitals adopted their staff COVID vaccine mandates in tandem back in July.

Yale New Haven Health reported firing 86 employees as of Wednesday, representing approximately 0.3% of employees. As of Monday, 94 employees were subject to termination but “eight of them actually got vaccinated at the last minute, or submitted vaccine cards, such that they were not let go,” said Dr. Ohm Deshpande, associate chief clinical officer, at a press conference Wednesday.

Approximately 97% of Yale New Haven Health employees are also vaccinated.

“Before we implemented the vaccine mandate, we were at 81%, which we also thought was great, but that 19% was really a tough nut to crack,” Deshpande said.

Both hospital systems have granted more religious than medical exemptions to the COVID vaccine so far. Both hospital systems also reported denying close to half of all applications received for religious exemptions.

Hartford HealthCare received 1,361 religious exemption requests, 557 of which were granted. Only 111 medical exemption requests were submitted, 43 of which were approved.

In last year’s flu season, 143 religious exemptions were approved, according to spokesperson Tina Varona.

“We’ve got a lot more requests for religious exemptions than any time before,” Kumar said. “It’s pretty much industry wide everywhere.”

At Yale New Haven Health, 392 applications for religious exemptions were denied and 449 were approved as of early October. Just over 300 medical exemptions had been approved — 270 of which were deferments — at the end of September. Overall, exemptions represent between “2% of our overall population, or maybe 2 1/2% of our overall population” of employees, Deshpande said.

For context, Yale New Haven Health approved 115 religious exemptions and 444 medical exemptions for the flu vaccine in 2020, according to numbers provided by spokesperson Mark D’Antonio.

The state is expected to release updates on mandate compliance among the state’s health care workers on Friday. Employees at Solnit Psychiatric Center, Connecticut Valley Hospital, UConn’s John Dempsey Hospital and Whiting Forensic Hospital are subject to a more restrictive vaccination mandate than other state employees. They do not have a test-out option unless they cite religious or medical exemptions.

Copyright 2021 Connecticut Public Radio

Kasturi Panajady // CTMirror.org
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