NorthShore University HealthSystem Monday joined the burgeoning list of Chicago-area hospitals requiring vaccinations for health care workers.
“We must do all we can to keep our employees and patients safe from a resurgence of COVID-19,” the health system said in a statement.
“Similar to our influenza vaccination requirement, NorthShore has implemented a team member COVID-19 vaccination requirement. All of our team members will be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 31, 2021.”
I shared in my Monday column my horrible experience there, when halfway through a 45-minute procedure, I learned the medical tech touching me — leaning in inches from my face, engaging in animated conversation, one thin mask to my two thick ones — was unvaccinated.
Splayed on the examining table, frozen in terror, I felt the remainder of the visit had been hell.
The Cook County Department of Public Health also Monday announced mandated vaccines for health care workers and all who come in contact with patients.
That means every major Chicago-area hospital and health care system — except Northwestern Medicine and AMITA Health — now mandates the vaccines for workers, as urged by more than 50 medical organizations.
With coronavirus cases surging, driven by the rapid spread of the Delta variant among the unvaccinated, I hope not to have to visit those two health systems anytime soon.
NorthShore, with six hospitals throughout the Chicago area — Evanston, Glenbrook, Highland Park, Northwest Community, Skokie and Swedish hospitals — and a 1,111-physician medical group with practices in 140 locations, is my medical provider.
The new policy applies across the board for its 17,000 employees.
“Requiring COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of employment is a critical and essential defense against this pandemic. The vaccines have been shown to be safe and effective against COVID-related hospitalization and death,” the NorthShore statement read.
I’m glad they acted. Last week, when I complained, NorthShore said plans for a mandate were still in the works. I’d said that after my experience, those plans seemed overdue.
Loyola Medicine on July 8 became the first area hospital system to issue the mandate. University of Chicago Medicine issued its own on July 13; University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System on July 21; Rush University Medical Center on July 26; Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital on Aug. 9, and Advocate Aurora Health on Aug. 4.
In declining to issue a mandate, Northwestern maintained “more than three-quarters of our employees are fully vaccinated.” But that means that one in four personnel you might encounter at their 10 acute care hospitals is not.
“We continue to encourage remaining unvaccinated staff to get vaccinated [and] answer their questions on the important role vaccines play in protecting themselves and their communities . . . but have not mandated the COVID-19 vaccine at this time,” a Northwestern Medicine statement said.
One of Illinois’ largest health systems, Amita Health, is keeping vaccines voluntary for 20,000 employees statewide, including at 14 acute care hospitals.
“At this time, AMITA Health continues to strongly encourage voluntary vaccination for all associates,” according to an AMITA statement.
Countries like Italy, France and Greece already mandate vaccines for health care workers — except for those not otherwise exempt for medical reasons. In the U.S., the debate still rages.
On one side are those arguing for freedom of choice and a potential to exacerbate the nation’s already critical health care worker shortage — if those workers opt to leave rather than be vaccinated.
On the other side, medical organizations including the American Medical Association, American College of Physicians, American Nurses Association and American Public Health Association, back compulsory vaccination.
“This is the logical fulfillment of the ethical commitment of all health care workers to put patients as well as residents of long-term care facilities first and take all steps necessary to ensure their health and well-being,” those groups said in their July 26 statement.
The U.S. is now seeing more than 129,000 new coronavirus cases daily, with the National Institutes of Health predicting we could hit more than 200,000 daily by September — a number not seen since before the wide availability of vaccines. And Illinois is averaging nearly 3,000 new COVID-19 cases daily — placing the state within the Centers for Disease Control’s red “high risk” category, and beginning its strain on Illinois hospitals.
Nationwide, infections and transmissions primarily are occurring among the unvaccinated.
As I wrote Monday, if I work hard to take all precautions against COVID-19 — primarily to protect my immunocompromised son and the 95-year-old mother in my care — the last place I want to have to worry about vaccine status is in a tiny hospital exam room.
No one should find themselves in the most vulnerable of positions, on an exam table, wanting the medical personnel treating them to get as far away from them as possible. Hospitals that have not already mandated vaccines for its health care workers are risking the lives of patients.
Northwestern Medicine and Amita Health: What are you waiting for?