I am amazed, but not surprised, that Mission Hospital system is resisting policies that require its staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19 (or otherwise require testing when staff have valid medical exemptions for immunization). This, despite recommendations from the Hospital Association, the American Nurses Association, the American Medical Association and an impending rule from Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services that limits payments for health care providers that do not immunize their staff. Dr. William Hathaway, chief medical officer of the Mission/HCA system, in a recent address to the Buncombe County commissioners, is worried that such a requirement might further worsen the shortage of staff if unvaccinated workers continue to resist immunization.
Many health care systems across the country have successfully implemented a vaccine mandate despite staffing issues or have announced plans to do so, but HCA is not among those systems. While increased staffing shortages may be a legitimate concern, I suspect that cost and profits are the real motivators for this position. Enforcing a vaccine mandate is costly, but HCA seems to prioritize the desires of its stockholders to receive significant dividends over health care concerns for its staff and patients.
Most health care providers recognize the importance of vaccines to their patients, families and themselves. Many work in environments where personal protective equipment and procedures are not fully in place when they are in contact with other staff members, and many would likely avoid contact with anyone who is not fully vaccinated, much less work in close contact with them. Vaccination is the key to limiting the epidemic, but by refusing to enforce vaccine mandates, HCA is tacitly endorsing the views of those who feel that vaccines are unnecessary or dangerous.
Mission HCA needs to get its priorities straight and heed the recommendations of public health and medical experts. Bite the bullet and mandate COVID vaccines for your staff. Join the institutions that are leading in the fight against the epidemic rather than caving into shortsighted attempts at making more profit. Our region deserves a health care system that leads in the fight against COVID.
— David S. Bailey