New mandates by Dayton hospitals seek to drive more COVID-19 immunizations

All major local hospital networks on Thursday announced vaccine requirements.

All major Dayton hospital systems announced new COVID-19 vaccine requirements for employees on Thursday, joining a recent wave of Ohio health systems adding mandates this week.

While the timelines vary by system, Dayton Children’s Hospital, Premier Health, and Kettering Health each announced their own mandatory vaccine policies, which cover more than 30,000 employees and medical staff between all three systems.

“With the highly infectious delta variant and cases on the rise in Ohio and across the nation, this is an important step to help ensure the safety and well-being of everyone in our facilities and sites of care,” said Dr. Marc Belcastro, chief medical officer for Premier Health. “It’s the right thing to do.”

They join the Dayton VA Medical Center, Ohio’s Hospice and other local health care organizations in requiring that workers get the shots and the announcements follow the Ohio Hospital Association recommending all hospitals in the state adopt such policies.

Close to half of all Ohioans have at least one dose of a vaccine, including more than 80% of those 65 and older, and those vaccinated have remained overall highly protected from disease.

However, the highly contagious delta variant has been exploiting low vaccinated groups and driving a new surge of hospitalizations. Other states with currently squeezed capacities have illustrated that communities with low immunity can still stretch hospitals thin, worsening care for both COVID-19 and other patients.

All Premier Health medical staff and employees will need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Dec. 1. More than 13,000 employees work for the regional health system, which includes Miami Valley Hospital, Miami Valley Hospital South and North locations, Upper Valley Medical Center, Atrium Medical Center and other sites and services.

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“Vaccination against COVID-19 is our best tool to prevent spread of the disease and ensure the health and well-being of our hospital workforce and the communities we serve,” said Mary Boosalis, president and CEO of Premier Health.

About 3,800 employees at Dayton Children’s Hospital, as well as any on-site contract workers, students and volunteers, are asked to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 1. If not, they will go on unpaid leave of absence for the next month, and after that would lose their jobs.

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UnitedHealthcare policyholders with individual and employer-sponsored health plans no longer have in-network access to Premier Health hospitals, including Miami Valley Hospital pictured here, as a result of failed contract talks. LISA POWELL / STAFF

UnitedHealthcare policyholders with individual and employer-sponsored health plans no longer have in-network access to Premier Health hospitals, including Miami Valley Hospital pictured here, as a result of failed contract talks. LISA POWELL / STAFF

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UnitedHealthcare policyholders with individual and employer-sponsored health plans no longer have in-network access to Premier Health hospitals, including Miami Valley Hospital pictured here, as a result of failed contract talks. LISA POWELL / STAFF

More than 70% of the children treated at the hospital are too young for the vaccine, said Dr. Adam Mezoff, chief medical officer and vice president of Dayton Children’s.

“So we have a big obligation to make sure that when they come to see us, that we keep them as safe as possible,” Mezoff said.

He said the hospital has been observing in states like Louisiana and Arkansas, where the number of children in the ICU increased.

For Kettering Health, the network’s more than 14,000 employees, as well as medical staff, students and volunteers must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 4. The network’s major medical centers include Fort Hamilton, Grandview, Greene Memorial, Kettering Health Behavioral, Kettering Medical Center, Soin, Southview, Sycamore and Troy.

“We urge others in our community to get the COVID-19 vaccine, as it is our best tool in the fight against this virus,” Kettering Health said in a company statement. “Vaccination against COVID-19 protects you and everyone around you: your family, your friends, your community.”

Additionally, all of Cincinnati’s major hospital groups are requiring their staffs and volunteers be vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus, they announced today in a joint news conference at Christ Hospital.

Kaiser Family Foundation’s latest vaccine monitor reported that nationally, about three in 10 adults remain unvaccinated. This includes one in 10 who say they want to “wait and see” how the vaccine works for other people before getting vaccinated and 3% who say they will do so “only if required” (down from 6% in June). An additional 14% say they will “definitely not” get a vaccine.

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Ohio’s Hospice and its affiliated organizations are requiring staff complete one of three vaccine courses by Oct. 1. As of Aug. 3, 64% of eligible staff members have received at least one dose of the three COVID-19 vaccines.

Ohio’s Hospice stated in its announcement that the decision to require COVID-19 vaccinations was “not about hindering personal freedoms or choice.”

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Premier Health Nurse Midwife, Susan Kloth prepares COVID-19 vaccines at the University of Dayton Arena.

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Premier Health Nurse Midwife, Susan Kloth prepares COVID-19 vaccines at the University of Dayton Arena.

Credit: JIM NOELKER

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Premier Health Nurse Midwife, Susan Kloth prepares COVID-19 vaccines at the University of Dayton Arena.

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Credit: JIM NOELKER

“It is about protecting the most frail and vulnerable patients and their families and protecting each other and our families. We see this decision as aligning with, and being true, to our values and mission,” the group stated.

Vaccine requirements have sometimes prompted legal challenges. In a lawsuit filed by 117 Houston Methodist Hospital employees over its requirement that all of its staff be vaccinated against COVID-19, the lead plaintiff had contended the vaccines were experimental and dangerous. In June, a federal judge threw out the lawsuit.

When asked about the potential of employees leaving over the mandate, president and CEO of Dayton Children’s Debbie Feldman said this is a decision “that some may not embrace, and they may make a decision not to be vaccinated and sadly may leave the hospital.”

“We would regret that greatly because we value every single caregiver we have at Dayton Children’s. That said, we feel very confident that we will continue to be able to provide the same high quality care that our families have always come to expect from Dayton Children’s,” Feldman said.