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Hospital system employees face firing as vaccine mandate deadlines approach

Advocate Aurora Health has fired more than 400 employees who refused to get vaccinated for COVID-19. Other hospitals are threatening to fire employees or approaching deadlines for their own vaccine mandates.

Advocate Aurora Health is the largest hospital system in Illinois and Wisconsin.
Advocate Aurora Health is the largest hospital system in Illinois and Wisconsin.
Brian Ernst/Sun-Times

Advocate Aurora Health, the largest hospital system in Illinois and Wisconsin, has fired more than 400 employees who refused to get vaccinated for COVID-19.

Almost half of the 440 recently terminated employees worked part time, the company said in a statement. The number is less than 1% of about 75,000 employees.

The system, which operates as Advocate Health Care in Illinois, announced in early August it would require its workers to get vaccinated. Other large hospitals made similar announcements just before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced full government approval of the Pfizer vaccine. Two other vaccines made by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are being administered under an emergency authorization from FDA.

“With about 99% of our team members compliant or in the process of becoming compliant with our vaccine policy, we are protecting the health and safety of our patients, communities and each other,” Advocate said in a statement.

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul receives a sticker after getting vaccinated against COVID-19 at Advocate Health Care’s vaccine clinic at Imani Village in the Cottage Grove Heights neighborhood, Friday morning, March 19, 2021.
Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul got his COVID-19 vaccination in March at Advocate Health Care’s vaccine clinic at Imani Village in the Cottage Grove Heights.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Among the Advocate workers fired were nurses, nursing assistants, janitors and patient service representatives, said a spokesman, who declined to provide additional comment.

When it announced its mandate in August, Advocate said it would make limited exceptions for religious or medical reasons. The announcement also coincided with a rise in cases over the summer attributed to a highly contagious form of the virus known as the Delta variant.

Advocate Aurora operates 26 hospitals in the two states.

Other hospitals are either threatening to fire employees or approaching deadlines for their own vaccine mandates.

Rush University Medical Center said fewer than 100 of its more than 11,000 employees are still unvaccinated after the hospital system set an Oct. 1 deadline for mandatory shots.

“Those who are not in compliance will be suspended and then likely would be let go if they do not take the necessary steps,” Rush said in a statement.

At Northwestern Medicine and NorthShore University HealthSystem, workers have until Oct. 31 to get vaccinated.

And at AMITA Health, workers have until Nov. 12 to get the shot. As of Oct. 19, about 88% of employees have received at least one dose of the vaccine. “We remain confident this percentage will increase in the coming weeks and associates will avoid any disciplinary steps,” AMITA said in a statement.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker in August issued a vaccination mandate for state health care workers.

Brett Chase’s reporting on the environment and public health is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.