Amid ongoing staffing shortages at health care facilities nationwide, announcements of COVID-19 vaccination mandates have spurred warnings of mass staff exoduses.
But so far at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, this has translated to just 2.5 of about 540 full-time-equivalent employees.
The hospital is one of several local health care organizations with employee-vaccination deadlines that came up within the past two weeks.
The others — Cheshire Medical Center in Keene and Genesis Healthcare, a Pennsylvania-based nursing home company with area locations in Keene, Winchester and Peterborough — did not tell The Sentinel how many employees had or would lose their jobs due to the mandate.
At Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health, which includes Cheshire Medical Center, staff who did not submit documentation of their compliance with the mandate by this week’s deadline will receive termination notices as soon as Monday, according to a spokeswoman. And while confirming that some Genesis employees were let go over that company’s requirement, spokeswoman Lori Mayer said it “has not publicly announced specific numbers.”
Monadnock Community Hospital in Peterborough has also implemented a vaccination mandate, with a deadline of Nov. 1.
The new requirements aim to help keep patients and staff safe as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Cheshire County and across the state. There were 179 known active cases in the county and 3,830 in New Hampshire as of Friday, according to data from the state health department.
The requirements are in line with President Joe Biden’s announcement in August — after Brattleboro Memorial, Cheshire Medical and Genesis had already announced their own mandates — that nursing homes and long-term care facilities must require all workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of Medicare and Medicaid funding. The deadline is not yet clear, according to news reports about the announcement.
But while many people argue that health care providers have a responsibility to get vaccinated, others feel it should be up to individuals to make that decision.
At Brattleboro Memorial, staff had until Friday to be fully vaccinated against the viral disease. Those who didn’t comply were subject to termination unless they had an approved religious or medical exemption.
Ninety-nine percent of the hospital’s employees did get inoculated, spokeswoman Gina Pattinson said, boosting that vaccination rate by about 9 percent.
Those who left, she added, worked in the birthing center, progressive care unit or were administrative employees.
Cheshire Medical employees — as well as everyone within the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health system — had until Thursday to be fully vaccinated. As of early August, about 80 percent of the hospital’s roughly 13,000 employees were inoculated.
In an interview with The Sentinel’s editorial board last week, Cheshire Medical’s President and CEO Dr. Don Caruso said he believes the requirement will affect staffing levels.
On the other hand, he noted, “... I’d probably lose people if I didn’t make it happen because I have people coming to me saying, ‘I don’t really wanna work with someone who’s not vaccinated.’ ”
At Genesis’ facilities, staff had until Sept. 22 to get their shot. Mayer, the company spokeswoman, said anyone who didn’t comply was fired, but they are eligible for “automatic rehire should they get vaccinated.”
“While we unfortunately had some employees who were not willing to comply with the policy ... we met our deadline of 100% vaccinated staff, as promised — excluding the small number of individuals who received medical or religious exemptions,” she said in an email Wednesday.
Genesis began encouraging residents and staff to get inoculated in December, when the vaccine became available, through site-run clinics. And while nearly all residents at the area’s facilities have been immunized for some time, staff had trailed behind prior to the mandate.
Staff vaccinations rates are now 100 percent at Keene Center, Langdon Place in Keene, Applewood Rehabilitation Center in Winchester and Pheasant Wood Center in Peterborough, according to the Genesis website.
Resident rates remain high as well.
As of Friday, Pheasant Wood and Langdon Place had the highest vaccination rates of local Genesis nursing homes among residents at 92 percent. Applewood was only slightly behind at 90 percent, while at Keene Center, 87 percent of residents were fully inoculated.