Wisconsin hospitals urge COVID-19 vaccination for staff now required to have shot

Health systems in the state expect to lose some staff over mandate but report 'high' levels of compliance

A health care worker receives a Pfizer COVID-19 booster shot
In this Oct. 5, 2021, photo, a health care worker receives a Pfizer COVID-19 booster shot at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. Lynne Sladky/AP Photo

As deadlines loom for many health care workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19, health systems in Wisconsin are poring over exemption requests and trying to convince employees to get the shot before missed deadlines lead to dismissal.

At Bellin Health in Green Bay, there were protests this August shortly after vaccine mandates were announced around the state. Currently, about 83 percent of workers are vaccinated against COVID-19, administrators say, and the health system is trying to increase the number of vaccinated staff in the next month, before the Nov. 15 deadline.

Chris Woleske, president and CEO of Bellin Health, said they don’t expect to have 100 percent of staff get the vaccine because of exemptions. Others will quit or be let go because the mandate.

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“And that’s unfortunate,” Woleske said during an WisPolitics roundtable Wednesday. “I hope that people can find a way to come to terms with the requirement and stay with us.”

Marshfield Clinic, which serves the northern two-thirds of the state, also expects some workers to leave over the COVID-19 vaccine requirement. Wisconsin law already requires hospital workers be vaccinated against other infectious diseases, including measles, and employer mandates of the COVID-19 vaccine have been upheld in court.

A “high percentage” of staff are already vaccinated said Marshfield Clinic Health System CEO Susan Turney. She said final staff vaccination rates won’t be known until the Nov. 15 deadline, a time when flu season could stress hospitals already caring for COVID-19 patients.

“The prediction is that this is going to be severe flu season,” Turney said during the roundtable discussion, noting they, like other health systems, honor exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine requirement.

In Milwaukee, at the Medical College of Wisconsin about 100 medical and religious exemptions have been granted to its vaccine mandate, said president and CEO, Dr. John Raymond. A dozen staff have submitted resignations, but 94 percent are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, he said.

COVID-19 vaccination for health care workers is supported by the Wisconsin Nurses Association, the Wisconsin Medical Society and a host of other organizations on the grounds that the vaccines protect both patients and health care workers from serious complications and death from the disease.

The Biden administration is currently developing a federal rule that all businesses with 100 or more employees have to ensure that every worker is either vaccinated for COVID-19 or submit to weekly testing for the coronavirus.