Mercy to Require Workers to Get COVID-19 Vaccine


Mercy to Require Workers to Get COVID-19 Vaccine

Mercy, which operates hospitals in Fort Smith and Rogers, announced Wednesday that it will require workers to be vaccinated for COVID-19, effective Sept. 30.

The health care provider said the new delta variant of the virus is spreading rapidly, causing hospitalizations to rise. Unvaccinated patients account for the majority of such increases at the northwest Arkansas locations and its other locations in Missouri, Mercy said.

"What we are seeing aligns with the Associated Press analysis of CDC data," Dr. John Mohart, senior vice president of clinical services, said in a news release. "More than 95% of recent hospitalizations across the U.S. are people who aren't vaccinated. The data is clear. Vaccination is key to saving lives."

The announcement comes as COVID-19 infections are back on the rise in Arkansas, fueled by the delta variant, which now makes up more than half of the COVID-19 cases in Arkansas and nationally. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the variant and is 30% to 50% more transmissible than the earliest variant. 

On Tuesday, the Arkansas Department of Health reported 270 new cases of COVID-19 and 55 new hospitalizations since Monday, the largest increase in hospitalizations since January. During a press briefing, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said that of those hospitalized, 98-99% were not fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Arkansas' vaccination rate remains among the lowest in the country. Hutchinson said that, "while we have 1 million fully vaccinated in Arkansas, that is not high enough to prevent more cases, more hospitalizations and more deaths." He said he would hold "community COVID conversations" in communities across the state to persuade more Arkansans to get vaccinated. His first event is at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Veterans Park Community Center in Cabot.

Bo Ryall, president and CEO of the Arkansas Hospital Association, said Mercy is the first system in the state he knows of that will require vaccinations. But all hospitals are discussing whether to do the same.

"They have been in the process of educating the healthcare workforce in their particular hospitals or systems, and encouraging vaccination and incentivizing vaccination, but I think some hospitals may be getting to the point of requiring vaccination, as we move forward," Ryall told Arkansas Business late Thursday. 

He said hospitals are looking at the total number of COVID-19 infections, increased hospitalizations and how many in their own workforce might be exposed or have the potential to test positive in order to determine whether they should require vaccinations.

On Wednesday, Mercy said dozens of health care organizations across the country are making vaccines mandatory among workers.

"It is essential that we take these steps in order to protect the health of our co-workers and our patients at Mercy," Dr. William Sistrunk, Mercy infectious disease specialist, said. "As health care leaders in our communities, it is important we set the standard to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"Vaccination is our best defense against the virus and already has provided many of our co-workers with the protection they need to care for our patients. Our goal is to ensure the safest possible work environment for our co-workers and patients while also being a part of the effort to stop the spread of the virus in the communities we serve."

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)