Hospitals Prepare To Fire Hundreds Of Unvaccinated Workers

BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts hospitals are preparing to fire hundreds of employees who fail to comply with COVID-19 vaccination requirements designed to protect patient safety.

Officials at hospitals across the state told The Boston Globe they don’t expect the number of employees who are fired because of vaccine mandates to result in cuts to patient services, but they are stepping up recruitment and retention efforts just in case.

At Mass General Brigham, the state’s largest hospital system, more than 95% of employees have been vaccinated, executives said, but about 4,000 have not yet received their shots or provided proof of vaccination ahead of the system’s Oct. 15 deadline. The system has about 74,000 employees.

The goal of the vaccine mandate is to protect patients, Chief Human Resources Officer Rosemary Sheehan said, adding that she hopes the number of workers fired will be "hundreds and not close to a thousand.”

“This is a very difficult time for everyone, and we’re trying to respond with what’s best for our patients,” Sheehan said. “That has been the beacon that has driven all of our decisions.”

At Beth Israel Lahey Health, 91% of the 35,000-member workforce has been vaccinated, but about 3,000 employees have yet to comply with an Oct. 31 deadline.

CEO Dr. Kevin Tabb said he expects most will get shots by then, but a few hundred could lose their jobs.

Worcester-based UMass Memorial Health Care is giving employees until Nov. 1 to get shots. So far, about 90% have been vaccinated, a spokesperson said. Terminations could affect patient care, Tony Berry said. The system has about 13,000 workers

“We will do everything we can to not have to resort to program closures, but ... we may have no other choice,” he said.

The experience at some hospitals whose vaccination deadlines have passed shows that near-universal compliance is possible.

At the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, more than 99% of workers have been vaccinated, while 54 people have been suspended without pay for refusing the vaccine. They have two weeks to begin their vaccinations or leave their jobs, the hospital said.

More than 99% of the roughly 12,000 employees at Springfield-based Baystate Health also received their shots by the Oct. 1 deadline, while 145 people were placed on leave and have two weeks to get vaccinated, officials said.

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NATIONAL GUARD BUSES

The National Guard said Thursday that it will provide school transportation services to four more Massachusetts school districts.

In response to requests for assistance by local governments, the Guard will begin service in Haverhill, Revere, Wachusett, and Worcester.

The Guard is already providing school transportation support in Brockton, Chelsea, Framingham, Holyoke, Lawrence, Lowell, Lynn, Quincy, Woburn, and Worcester.

Gov. Charlie Baker mobilized the Guard last month to make up for a shortage of school bus drivers across the state.

More than 190 members of the Guard have since completed the driver’s certification process to operate transport vans.

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THE NUMBERS

The number of new daily cases of COVID-19 increased by more than 1,500 Thursday, while the number of newly confirmed coronavirus deaths in Massachusetts rose by 22.

The new numbers pushed the state’s confirmed COVID-19 death toll to 18,342 since the start of the pandemic, while its confirmed caseload rose to nearly 767,000.

There were about 570 people reported hospitalized Thursday because of confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 150 in intensive care units.

The average age of those who have died from COVID-19 was 72.

The true number of cases is likely higher because studies suggest some people can be infected and not feel sick.

More than 4.6 million people in Massachusetts have been fully immunized against COVID-19 with more than 167,000 people having received booster shots.