All 117,000 employees at the Trinity Health system must get vaccinated against COVID-19 by this fall, the not-for-profit health system announced Thursday.
The mandate covers everyone, from clinical staff to contractors to anyone else working in the not-for-profit Catholic system's 91 hospitals and 113 continuing care locations.
Leaders and new hires will need to be fully vaccinated by Aug. 24, and all other employees will have until Sept. 21. Workers who refuse a vaccine face termination, said Mike Slubowski, president and CEO of Livonia, Michigan-based Trinity Health. The company allows for exceptions on religious or medical grounds.
"It seemed to us like an important imperative to set the expectation as a healing organization to do this," Slubowski said.
Many others will follow, Slubowski predicted. "We think many people are making or have made similar decisions to this," he said. "We believe this is a step that the majority, if not all, providers are going to be taking in the coming months."
For Trinity Health, it comes down to safety, Slubowski said. A few years ago, the health system made safety one of its core values, and the mandate reinforces that principle, he said.
"We've been watching the increase in the Delta variant, so our concern is for communities that aren't vaccinated and whether we're going to be seeing more surges," Slubowski said. "It's not only our concern about the communities but it's concern about our colleagues being exposed."
Both employees and patients have expressed concerns about healthcare workers not being vaccinated, Slubowski said. "What we've heard from our patients is they expect, when they come to a medical facility, that the people who work in the medical facilities will be vaccinated," he said.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Trinity Health has had a team in place to handle the system's response. That group has spent months looking at the science behind the vaccines and the ethical issues involved in a mandate.
Trinity Health aims to get its workforce vaccinated before fall and winter, when people will be in enclosed spaces and COVID-19 can spread more easily, Slubowski said.
All Trinity Health locations are vaccination sites, which will enable unvaccinated workers to get their shots during their workdays in a safe setting, Slubowski said. The company's record-keeping system is very similar to the one it uses to verify that workers have receive annual flu vaccines, he said.
Given the competition for workers in the hospital and long-term care industries, Slubowski said he is anxious about filling vacant positions, including those left open by current employees who decline vaccination. But he's more focused about his staff being safe.
"We're concerned about their health and wellbeing. We believe that vaccination is an important element of that," he said. "The science is clear that the vaccines are safe and save lives."