Unions seek bargain as Cincinnati-area hospitals require COVID-19 vaccines

Posted at 9:01 AM, Aug 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-05 19:51:25-04

CINCINNATI — All Cincinnati-area hospitals will require employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as the hospital systems combat rising cases and hospitalizations, hospital leaders announced Thursday.

Cincinnati Children's Medical Center, Tri-Health, Christ Hospital, Mercy Health, St. Elizabeth and UC Medical Center are among those confirmed to be requiring the shot for employees.

“This vaccination requirement highlights our commitment to our community to ensure there is minimal risk of acquiring COVID-19 from our employees — and provides further reassurance that it is safe for children and families to seek the inpatient, outpatient and preventative health care they need," said Cincinnati Children's CEO Michael Fisher.

Cincinnati Children’s, like most area hospitals, already requires vaccination against seasonal flu, measles, mumps and rubella.

Hospital leaders said they didn't know how many hospital workers have yet to receive the vaccine, but the mandate would impact tens of thousands of local health care workers. They said there will be some exemptions for staff, such as religious reasons.

Kelly Hickman-Begley is a labor and delivery nurse and board member of the Registered Nurses Association of the University of Cincinnati Medical Center — the hospital's nursing union, which is part of the Ohio Nurses Association.

"This rise in the delta variant is worrisome — we definitely don't want to tax our health care system any more than we already are — and I think one of the best tools to prevent that is to have people be vaccinated," Hickman-Begley said. "As a union, we think it's really important that people are vaccinated ... but it has to be done in the right way."

Since this morning's announcement, UC Medical has agreed to bargain with nurses on the requirement, including how to approve sick days for those impacted by vaccine side effects.

"What kind of rules can we come up with that those people are not punished then for those exemptions," Hickman-Begley said. "We don't want to tax the system any more by losing nurses over a decision like this."

Dr. Robert Prichard, CEO of St. Elizabeth Health Network, admitted employees would be split on the issue.

"Half of our employees are probably applauding this morning and half are probably booing us," Prichard said. “It’s obviously a concern that associates could leave us. I think it helps us that we’re doing this together. We’re sending a unified message to our community that we all find this very important for the safety of our patients, safety of our associates and health of our community.”

Most employees will be required to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 1, though some hospitals have not yet set a deadline. Hospital leaders said the implementation will be similar to how they require other vaccines.

The announcement arrived as businesses across the Tri-State are considering making the employee vaccinations mandatory.