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SSM Health requiring COVID-19 vaccine for all employees

By September, all SSM employees in Wisconsin who do not qualify for a religious or medical exception must be vaccinated, or they risk being let go.
Published: Jun. 29, 2021 at 7:24 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Some area health systems are now requiring the COVID-19 vaccine for employees. SSM Health announced Monday all employees must get the vaccine by September as a condition of employment.

Initially, SSM wanted to wait for FDA approval of the vaccines, but the spread of the new, more contagious Delta variant in Wisconsin made them reconsider and make the change sooner.

“It’s our obligation to lead by example,” said interim regional president Matthew Hanley, adding, “At the end of the day, it’s about patient safety.”

SSM officials explained getting people vaccinated as fast as possible gives the virus fewer chances to mutate.

“We know that the vaccines work against the Delta variant, but the virus can always mutate and keep changing and there could be other variants in the future that could be not as responsive to the vaccine,” said Vice President of Pharmacy Services Mo Kharbat.

At this point, 77% of SSM employees are already vaccinated, and Hanley expects that number to rise.

“A lot of our employees have already voted with their feet, or I should say their arms,” he said.

Come September, unvaccinated employees who do not qualify for a religious or medical exemption will be let go.

“Leading by example in terms of raising the vaccination rates within our community will also result in a better outcome for all,” Hanley said.

Requiring vaccines for health care workers is not new. Many health systems, including SSM Health, require the influenza vaccine for their employees, but not all organizations are taking this route with the COVID-19 vaccine. UW Health—where vaccination rates are at around 90%—is encouraging the shot, but it is not a requirement.

“We already have a really high rate of vaccination, so that probably reduces that kind of urgency just a little bit,” said chief quality officer Jeff Pothof.

Pothof explained employees had many questions about the vaccines in the beginning—especially being the first group to have access to the shot—but he said they did not take much convincing.

“They signed up at a very high rate, much higher than what we’re seeing in the general public,” he said.

However, Pothof explained requiring the COVID-19 vaccine is not off the table in the future. He said UW Health is constantly reviewing the data and and their decisions to keep their patients and staff safe.

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