Staff shortages riskier than unvaccinated workers, hospital CEOs say

The CEOs of Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland-based University Hospitals and Johnson City, Tenn.-based Ballad Health said they are concerned that COVID-19 vaccine mandates may lead to an employee exodus that would affect patient care.

Tomislav Mihaljevic, MD, CEO and president of Cleveland Clinic, and Cliff Megerian, MD, CEO of University Hospitals, said Aug. 26 in a virtual forum they are considering a vaccine requirement for employees, but a potential loss of staff is a concern, according to an Aug. 26 report.

The CEOs said they worried that some healthcare workers would rather quit or be fired than get inoculated. Dr. Mihaljevic said hospitals are already understaffed, and losing healthcare employees during a public health crisis would jeopardize the Clinic's ability to provide care. 

"This is something that is on everybody's mind," Dr. Mihaljevic said.

Dr. Megerian said some facilities' COVID-19 vaccine mandates resulted in staff reductions when employees who did not get vaccinated were fired, but didn't provide specific examples, according to the report. 

"It's a cynical question, but what gets us to losing the higher amount of staff?" said Alan Levine, CEO of Ballad Health, Bloomberg reported Aug. 26. 

Ballad Health decided against implementing a vaccine mandate after a model suggested that as many as 15 percent of nurses — or 900 employees — may quit if the system did.

"There are not enough nurses to go around. That is clear," he said, adding that he would hire 600 nurses right now if they were available.

University Hospitals is considering possible consequences for employees who refuse to be vaccinated, such as COVID-19 testing more than once a week, Dr. Megerian said. 

About 80 percent of caregivers at Cleveland Clinic have been vaccinated, and the Clinic continues to strongly encourage its caregivers to get vaccinated, Dr. Mihaljevic said. 

Mr. Levine said 50 percent of Ballad's front-line nurses and 97 percent of its physicians are vaccinated.

Dr. Megerian said about 80 percent of University Hospitals employees have been vaccinated, and he expects that percentage to rise rapidly now that the Pfizer vaccine has received full FDA approval.

"We don't believe that right now, with the minimal amount of [health system employees] who haven't yet decided to pursue the vaccine, that we're putting our patients in danger," Dr. Megerian said. "We just don't want to put our workforce in immediate danger of joblessness."

Ballad is focusing on educating staff about the misinformation surrounding the vaccine. 

"The overwhelming number of our nurses are female and young and in childbearing years," Mr. Levine said, adding that many of his female employees believe the vaccine can negatively affect their fertility. He said educating them has been a priority.

"I can't say that's generated a whole lot of results yet," Mr. Levine said.


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