In Virginia, Only Inova, UVa Health and VA Hospitals Mandate Vaccinations for Staff

by James C. Sherlock

Among large Virginia health systems, only Inova, UVa Health and VA Medical Centers appear currently to mandate staff vaccinations.

Inova is the only one of those that is private.

On Monday, a Joint Statement in Support of COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates for All Workers in Health and Long-Term Care was issued by a long list of signatories including the American Medical Association (AMA), American Nurses Association (ANA); and the American Public Health Association (APHA):

“We call for all health care and long-term care employers to require their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.”

It is a coordinated plea.

The Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association, the lobbyist for non-profit hospitals in Virginia, on July 18 published a statement encouraging its own members to take action:

“VHHA supports hospitals and health systems amending their existing vaccine policies to require COVID-19 vaccines for their health care employees. VHHA recognizes that each hospital and health system is unique and encourages each hospital and health system to determine the appropriate time to implement a requirement.”

That of course makes no sense on its face. VHHA members are quite free to do it, so that statement effectively stands as the hospitals encouraging themselves to take action.

That was written because there is no federal or state requirement for healthcare workers to be vaccinated and the health systems want one.

It signals that most private healthcare organizations, likely out of concern for inducing staffing shortages and lawsuits, appear to be hesitating to do it without such a policy being mandated by the government.

Virginia Department of Health is the relevant regulator in Virginia. Virginia has yet to announce policy on this matter.

Silence in this case is policy.

VDH has been under the control of the hospitals for decades, so perhaps it will issue the mandate that the health systems clearly want.

Meanwhile, early policies by individual health systems mandating vaccinations have worked and stood up in court.

First, what have the courts had to say? Houston Methodist announced a mandatory staff vaccination policy in April. It has 26,000 employees. It suspended 178 recalcitrant workers without pay on June 8 and fired those who didn’t agree by June 22 to get vaccinated.

The first lawsuit against that policy has already been thrown out by a federal judge. The judge said:

“Methodist is trying to do their business of saving lives without giving them the COVID-19 virus. It is a choice made to keep staff, patients and their families safer. (Plaintiff) can freely choose to accept or refuse a COVID-19 vaccine; however, if she refuses, she will simply need to work somewhere else,”

My checks on Virginia healthcare facilities yielded the following results.

Private hospitals in Virginia. I note from today’s report in Becker’s Hospital Review that Inova is the only private healthcare system in Virginia listed as mandating vaccines for workers.

Inova in mid-June informed its 18,000 employees that they will have to be vaccinated by Sept. 1. Good for them.

It is no surprise at all that Inova is taking the lead in Virginia.

As for the others:

  • Sentara on its “You’re Safe at Sentara” page fails to list staff vaccinations among its eight safety measures.
  • Carilion has visitation restrictions, but apparently does not require vaccinations of staff.
  • Ballad’s news releases have no reference to staff vaccinations.
  • Centra just announced a new CEO, Amy Carrier. She comes there from Bon Secours Mercy Health, where she served as the Market President for the Bon Secours Hampton Roads Health System. I know Ms. Carrier well, and I suspect she will soon take a stand with her board in favor of staff vaccinations. But no policy is so far announced.
  • HCA has “prioritized COVID-19 vaccinations for our workforce,” but apparently not mandated it.
  • Augusta Health has no published policy on staff vaccinations. Perhaps because the adult vaccination rate in the Central Shenandoah Health District is only 54% as of the latest update.
  • Valley Health – nothing.
  • Riverside – nothing on COVID staff vaccination requirements. I do note that Riverside filed a letter of intent to apply for a Certificate of Public Need (‘COPN’) to establish a new general acute care hospital in Isle of Wight County.
  • Chesapeake Regional Medical Center. No policy found.
  • Bon Secours. No policy found.
  • Encompass Health (Rehab hospitals). No policy found.
  • Sheltering Arms (Rehab). No policy found
  • CHKD. No policy found.
  • Lifepoint announced in mid July that “So far, LifePoint has vaccinated approximately 65% to 70% of its nationwide workforce.” So no mandatory policy yet.
  • Mary Washington. No policy found.

State Hospitals. I can find no relevant policy statement from VCU.

UVa Medical Center has acted. It published in a news release on Monday that “At UVA Health, we expect all team members to be vaccinated for COVID-19.

Federal hospitals. The administrations announced on Monday that the Veterans Administration has mandated COVID-19 vaccinations for health care workers.

DoD has not yet mandated healthcare worker vaccinations for military hospitals.

Nursing Homes and care for the elderly. LeadingAge represents more than 5,000 nonprofit aging services providers across the United States — including nursing homes, providers of care at home and in the community, adult day services; affordable housing, assisted living, life plan and independent living communities, hospice, and providers of federal PACE (Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly) services.

The LeadingAge Statement on Vaccine Mandates For Healthcare Workers
7/26/21 stated:

LeadingAge supports requiring vaccines for current and new staff in long-term care and other healthcare settings.As the most effective tool to protect from the virus, COVID-19 vaccination should be a condition of employment for all healthcare workers, including employees, contract staff and others, with appropriate exemptions for those with medical reasons or as specified by federal or state law.

I did not check on each of Virginia’s elder care facilities. I recommend you ask if this is an issue that affects you or your loved ones.

Bottom Line. Sorry if anything in that list is inaccurate, but I checked each website today for news releases.

Most healthcare providers are waiting for a government mandate. We don’t know when that might happen.

The Virginia Department of Health is, as I wrote above, the regulator of Virginia healthcare facilities.

We’ll watch it.

Until then, check on your local providers.