Northwestern Medicine acts; now all major Chicago-area hospital systems have vaccine mandates
Northwestern Medicine on Wednesday issued a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for its 23,000 workers — becoming the last of the Chicago-area’s major hospital systems to do so.
Northwestern Medicine on Wednesday mandated COVID-19 vaccinations for its 23,000 workers statewide, becoming the last of the Chicago-area’s major hospital systems to do so.
The move by the health care system anchored by Northwestern Memorial Hospital means now all major Chicago-area hospital and health care systems are requiring vaccinations for health care workers as urged since July by medical organizations nationwide.
“Given the spread of the COVID-19 Delta variant and its risk to those with underlying medical conditions and children under 12 who are not yet eligible to receive a vaccine, Northwestern Medicine physicians and staff will be required to complete COVID-19 vaccination or receive a medical or religious exemption by October 31,” a Northwestern Medicine statement said.
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Northwestern acted a day after AMITA Health, one of Illinois’ largest health systems, reversed a voluntary compliance policy and mandated vaccines for its 20,000 employees statewide by Nov. 12.
More than 50 national medical groups had urged vaccine mandates for health care workers, as coronavirus cases surge, driven by the rapid spread of the Delta variant among the unvaccinated. Those groups had hoped this week’s FDA approval of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine would move holdout hospitals and health systems to act.
Nearly all Chicago-area hospitals — except AMITA, NorthShore University HealthSystem and Northwestern Medicine — had already issued the mandates. In the wake of a Chicago Sun-Times column on an experience with an unvaccinated medical tech at one of its hospitals, NorthShore last week issued an Oct. 31 deadline for its 17,000 workers to be vaccinated.
The mandates make vaccinations a prerequisite of employment, with varying degrees of consequences — ranging from suspension without pay, up to and including termination.
The debate over the mandates for health care workers has raged, one side arguing freedom of choice and a potential to exacerbate the nation’s already critical health care workforce shortage — if those workers opt to leave rather than be vaccinated.
On the other side, groups including the American Medical Association, American College of Physicians, American Nurses Association and American Public Health Association have backed compulsory vaccination as the fulfillment of health care workers’ “ethical commitment” to take all steps necessary to ensure patients’ health and well-being.
The response by reticent workers will be watched closely, with hospitals treading lightly in the attempt to accomplish full compliance. Unlike other hospitals, Northwestern, for example, is allowing unvaccinated workers to undergo weekly COVID-19 testing after Oct. 31, and will wait until Jan. 1, 2022 to begin implementing employment consequences.
Northwestern, which has 10 acute-care hospitals, had earlier stuck with voluntary compliance, arguing 75 percent of its workers were vaccinated. That figure is now at 80 percent.