Ballad Health rejects mandatory vaccination status badges after employee feedback

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After receiving resistance, Johnson City, Tenn.-based Ballad Health will not move forward with a policy change that would have required employees to wear color-coded badges indicating whether they have been vaccinated against COVID-19, according to News Channel 11.

Ballad announced the requirement July 6. Under the policy change, vaccinated employees would have had blue-coded badges, and unvaccinated employees would have had orange-coded ones. Employees who did not comply faced disciplinary action. 

"This is particularly crucial as many updated COVID-19 guidelines no longer require masks for certain meeting and social situations, provided all attendees are vaccinated. For maskless gatherings to be safe, our team members need to be certain everyone in attendance is fully protected from COVID-19," Ballad Health Chief Communications Specialist Ashlea Ramey told News Channel 11 after the health system announced the requirement. "By protecting each other, we're also protecting our community members and, importantly, our Ballad Health patients and visitors, from this virus."

But the badges were never distributed. And Ballad Health CEO Alan Levine told the news station July 21 that the health system is changing course and that he'd made "a bad decision … for the right reasons."

The policy change was made after the U.S. Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration released new COVID-19 workplace safety rules for healthcare. The emergency temporary standard requires health systems to develop policies and procedures to determine employees' vaccination status if they want to be exempt from providing controls such as masking and social distancing in areas where there isn't reasonable expectation that people with suspected or confirmed coronavirus will be present.

Mr. Levine told News Channel 11 that workers spoke up about the policy change, with people on both sides of the issue.

However, "at the end of the day there were enough team members that said, 'I feel like my personal rights are not being put at the top of the list of things that are important.' And ultimately, I agreed with them, and we changed it, and now I think we have a policy that our team members generally support. Even if they may not like the outcome, I think they feel like they had input on it," he told the news station.

Ms. Ramey told Becker's July 23 that Ballad Health will make blue-coded badges available to vaccinated employees who voluntarily want to wear one. 

"Our policy, for as long as the OSHA emergency temporary standard is in place, will be that any congregation of people in any setting (meetings, lunch, breaks, training, etc.) will require masking and physical distancing if anyone in the group is not wearing a blue-[coded] badge," she said.

She said employees who do not follow this requirement could face disciplinary action.

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