Bartlett Regional Hospital workers will soon be required to get vaccinated against COVID-19. That’s despite concerns from a union and the hospital CEO.
The hospital’s board of directors voted 7-0 for an employee vaccine mandate on Tuesday.
Board Vice President Rosemary Hagevig said her support was absolute.
“We are the primary health care provider in the community and I think it’s up to us as an institution to set an example for other health care providers, other businesses. There’s people doing this all over the country,” she said.
Anjela Johnston is the president of Unit 2201 of Local 200 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents more than 500 hospital workers. She encouraged the board to let the union and administrators work together on an approach based on empathy and trust to reach the remaining unvaccinated employees.
“It might seem like a mandate could shortcut all of that, but it really doesn’t,” Johnston said. “In fact, the work of building trust and empathy may get a little more uphill once a mandate gets put into place. Because people’s fear levels go up, and then walls go up.”
Hospital CEO Rose Lawhorne has said she was hesitant to impose a mandate because informed consent is a core tenet of health care. She also encouraged a softer touch.
“I could go and talk to all those people, but as the CEO, that might seem aggressive to some who are just uncertain,” Lawhorne said. “And so, encouraging the vaccination is important, and it has to be right person who can be heard by the person who’s still uncertain.”
The vaccine policy itself hasn’t been written yet. The board’s vote directed hospital administrators to develop it, with religious and medical exemptions. The union will also have a role in developing it.
Dr. Lindy Jones, who leads the emergency department, pushed for the mandate.
“Unfortunately, with this virus, decisions that the individuals make not to have the vaccine affects the people that they work with, affects our hospital, and affects our community,” Jones said.
In a recent video on social media, he said he had just had one of the saddest days of his career after two patients with COVID-19 he admitted died at Bartlett. He said the hospital’s medical staff, who aren’t represented by Johnston’s union, unanimously support a mandate.
Mary Frances Fisher is the acting vice president of the hospital union. She fears the mandate will further strain hospital workers.
“We’re already understaffed, we’re already overworked,” Fisher said. “We have people working extra shifts, extra hours, extra days — all the time. All the way through this pandemic, whether they were vaccinated or unvaccinated, and we have all stayed safe.”
On Wednesday, a hospital recruitment webpage showed 48 open positions.
“The more people we lose, the harder it is on everybody. I really, really will be terribly sad to see more people walk out with bitter, bitter hard feelings,” Fisher said.
Based on in-hospital vaccinations and requests for vaccination records, Fisher said about 75 hospital workers are unvaccinated or have not shared a record.