PHOENIX – Two days after Monday’s deadline for health care workers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the state’s largest hospital systems reported very high rates of compliance.
Major health systems, including Banner Health, Valleywise Health, Sun Health, Dignity Health and HonorHealth, saw more than 95% of workers meet the requirement, according to numbers reported Wednesday.
The mandates came as Arizona remains in the midst of a severe nursing shortage, and officials feared the vaccine requirements could worsen the problem. But with the small rate of noncompliance, most health systems said that their losses will not interrupt the current level of service.
Valleywise Health, Maricopa County’s hospital system, reported that more than 99% of employees have received the vaccine or an approved exemption, Dr. Michael White said at a news conference Wednesday.
“I’m very impressed with individuals that have been able to do this to make sure that we’re able to continue to offer a safe care environment, and be leaders around the importance of the vaccine,” said White, the system’s chief clinical officer.
Banner Health was the first health system in Arizona to require the shots, announcing its mandate in July. With more than 62,000 employees, it’s one of the largest nonprofit hospital systems in the country and the largest private employer in the state.
Ninety-seven percent of Banner Health’s workforce, which includes 48,000 employees in Arizona, have complied with the policy. According to a statement from CEO Peter Fine, those noncompliant will “be placed on unpaid leave and will have until November 30 to comply with this requirement or resign.” The statement also said there would be no interruptions to their level of care as a result.
Across the hospitals, accommodations were considered for those unable to receive the vaccine. White said Valleywise employees had to provide religious or medical reasons, such as allergies to components of the vaccines.
With less than 1% of staff terminated at Valleywise, White said, understaffing remains at last month’s rate, about 10 to 15 nurses short on a daily basis.
“We have not really seen any relief around that. … Our emergency department volumes continue to be high as well,” he said.
Dignity Health and HonorHealth also saw high compliance rates, at 98% and 95% respectively.
HonorHealth, which has more than 13,000 employees, said in a statement it would “meet with those noncompliant team members in the coming weeks to address any barriers that are preventing them from becoming compliant.” HonorHealth did not comment on how any losses would impact their quality of care.
Dignity Health, which has more than 60,000 employees across three states, said in a statement that it “does not anticipate any impacts to patient care, services, or programs.”
However, Yavapai Regional Medical Center, an affiliate of Dignity Health, extended its deadline to Feb. 1 for fear of losing employees. The mandate could have serious implications at Yavapai, where many are against taking the vaccines.
Sun Health, which is based in the West Valley, also reported minimal loss of personnel – “less than 1%,” it said in a statement. Out of nearly 600 employees, 81% are fully vaccinated and about 20% received an exemption.
Research shows that employer vaccine mandates are highly successful, even among the most hesitant.