UPMC worker vaccination policy draws attention of state lawmakers

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Pittsburgh-based UPMC has come under scrutiny by some Pennsylvania lawmakers over its stance on vaccinating all healthcare workers, including those who don't have direct contact with COVID-19 patients, according to the Altoona Mirror.

The health system's policy was brought up Jan. 21 during an online regional town hall conducted by Democratic state lawmakers.

State Sens. Jay Costa and Lindsey Williams, and state Rep. Sara Innamorato, expressed concerns at the town hall. Mr. Costa said the policy is not in keeping with "the spirit or theory" of Pennsylvania's phase 1a for COVID-19 vaccine distribution, and the senators said UPMC should be held accountable because it would seem the policy violates phase 1A eligibility guidelines, according to the Altoona Mirror.

The state's department of health website shows that Pennsylvania is currently in phase 1A, which calls for vaccinating long-term care facility residents, the highest risk healthcare workers, people age 65 and older, and people age 16-64 with high-risk conditions. Among the healthcare workers included in this phase are physicians, nurses, nursing assistants, technicians, direct support professionals, phlebotomists, and those "not directly involved in patient care but potentially exposed to infectious material that can transmit disease among or from healthcare personnel and patients." It does not list administrators and some hospital operations workers.

Wendy Braund, MD, COVID-19 response director at the state department of public health, said during the town hall: "We would certainly hope that all (providers) would follow the plan. But the bottom line is, there is no order that compels (hospitals) to abide by that plan, and that would give us the authority to enforce it," according to the Altoona Mirror.

UPMC defended its policy.

"Under the direction of the commonwealth and CDC, UPMC devised a process to efficiently prioritize our healthcare workers for COVID-19 vaccination and immediately enacted this plan as vaccine arrived on Dec. 14," the health system said in a statement shared with Becker's. "Due to the storage requirements for COVID-19 vaccine, it must be administered close to the facility where it is received. Facilities work through vaccinating employees according to UPMC's prioritization, moving from patient-facing front-line health care workers through to other essential healthcare workers. The vast majority of COVID-19 exposures of UPMC staff that result in infection or quarantine do not occur inside UPMC facilities, but still have a profound impact on healthcare operations. Vaccinating all UPMC employees is essential to our ability to continue providing world class care."

UPMC said it has been in contact with state and federal authorities throughout the vaccine rollout to properly allocate and provide shots during phase 1A and has followed the direction of these authorities. Under direction of the state, the health system said it has started vaccinating the broader group of front-line healthcare workers not directly employed by UPMC including community providers and students.

Overall, more than 51,000 UPMC staff have received the first dose as of Jan. 22, and more than 36,000 staff are scheduled to receive their first dose. More than 18,000 staff have received their second dose, and more than 13,000 staff are scheduled to receive their second dose. UPMC said it has also vaccinated more than 5,000 healthcare workers who are not affiliated with the health system.

Read the full Altoona Mirror article here


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