Intermountain Healthcare vaccine mandate: COVID vaccine now required

Intermountain Healthcare announced Wednesday it will require all of its caregivers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The requirement is meant “to comply with federal vaccination requirements announced by President (Joe) Biden” on Sept. 9, system officials said.

Dr. Mark Briesacher, chief physician executive, noted it’s been 20 months since the first COVID-19 patient was admitted to Intermountain Medical Center. Since then, he said it’s been “remarkable” to watch the caregivers at the system respond to the pandemic.

“I can’t thank the nurses and physicians, and all of our health care teams and everyone who supports them at Intermountain enough for what they’ve done. It’s been truly remarkable,” Briesacher said during a news conference.

After reviewing the rules from the Biden administration, he said it “became clear that we need to comply with these rules, because this is about caring for people.”

Intermountain Healthcare leaders received guidance from the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force, which told them the key point of the new rules is that within facilities that work within a federal contract, everyone who works there needs to be vaccinated.

Briesacher said that’s why the system decided to take a “one Intermountain” approach to it.

The system cares for patients with different forms of federal insurance, “and it really comes down to that bottom line of we’re going to be there for people when they need us.” Four out of every 10 of the system’s patients have federal Medicare or Medicaid support, he added.

Intermountain has come up with an approach focused on “listening,” answering questions, and helping people through the decision-making process, according to Briesacher.

Employees can submit medical and religious exemptions “and we’re going to work through those very carefully, thoughtfully, with an open mind, in a generous way to understand those concerns and honor those exemptions,” Briesacher said.

He called the mandate “just the next thing for us to work on together.”

Intermountain Healthcare already requires it employees to receive vaccines for hepatitis, whooping cough, the annual flu, measles, mumps and rubella.

“What these all have in common is that these are viruses and bacteria that are easily spread through a community if that community is vulnerable and not immune to them,” Briesacher said.

Those who don’t start the process to get vaccinated or request an exemption will be “separated” from the company, he said.

“As a health care organization, Intermountain requires immunizations because they protect us and others — patients, members, colleagues, families and communities — from illness and disease, like COVID-19. There is overwhelming evidence that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective,” the newly released company policy states.

Intermountain said more than 75% of its caregivers are already fully vaccinated and up to 85% have received one dose.

“Vaccination efforts nationally, and specifically in the Intermountain West, have proven central to reducing the spread of the virus and saving lives,” according to the policy.

More than 200 million people in America have been vaccinated against COVID-19, including 1.94 million in Utah who have

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Intermountain Healthcare will require its caregivers to be vaccinated against COVID-19

Intermountain Healthcare has announced it will require “all of its caregivers” to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to comply with pending federal rules.

Federal officials are moving forward on vaccine requirements for large employers — and previously have said government insurers like Medicare and Medicaid will only cover services from health care providers whose employees all are vaccinated.

That would eliminate coverage for about four in every 10 of Intermountain’s patients, if the network did not require vaccines, said Dr. Mark Briesacher, chief physician executive for Intermountain.

“After reviewing the rules that we have received, it really became clear that we need to comply with these rules because this is about caring for people,” Briesacher said in a news conference Wednesday. “We care for people who have Medicare insurance, Medicaid insurance, other forms of federal health insurance. We have connections to a variety of federal contracts.”

About 80% of Intermountain’s care providers already are fully vaccinated, according to a news statement Wednesday.

That means about one in five are not.

Those employees may seek exemptions on medical or religious grounds, Briesacher said — a process that’s already in place for an array of other vaccinations that Intermountain requires employees to have, like those for the flu, whooping cough, measles, and other illnesses.

“We’re going to work through those very thoughtfully, very carefully, in a generous way … to honor those exemptions,” Briesacher said.

Employees have until Jan. 5 to get their first shot of a vaccine. Those who haven’t at that point will be put on “administrative leave,” Briesacher said.

“We will … continue that thoughtful conversation to understand what their needs are, what their questions are and get those answered,” Briesacher said.

If employees remain unvaccinated and do not have an exemption as of Feb. 9 “we’ll then begin to move to separate them from the organization,” Briesacher said. “We’ll do that in a very caring and thoughtful and supportive way, helping them land in a place that’s right for them and best for them.

Briesacher said he doesn’t “have a specific number in mind” of how many employees may quit or wait to be fired rather than get the vaccine.

“We’ve seen varying experiences across the United States when different health systems have gone through this,” Briesacher said.

While some hospitals have struggled to retain staff after imposing vaccine requirements, surveys of health care workers have generally overstated their actual willingness to quit. That’s according to research in The Conversation, a nonprofit news publication that conducts and covers academic research. In a sample of health care employers that had implemented vaccine requirements, researchers found a vanishingly small percentage of employees actually left their jobs.

It’s not clear where else Intermountain employees would seek employment; the state’s second-largest healthcare system, University of Utah Health, already has required employees to be vaccinated. And all other healthcare providers in the United States fall under under the same federal rules that have prompted Intermountain to require

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