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Two Georgia hospital groups join growing list requiring employees to get COVID-19 shots

Piedmont Healthcare and St. Mary’s Health Care require employees to be vaccinated.

ATLANTA — Most Georgians have still not gotten the full round of COVID-19 shots. Just 39 percent were fully vaccinated as of Tuesday.

But more and more hospitals across the country are requiring their employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, or the employees will be fired.

So far, there are two hospital groups in Georgia mandating vaccinations for employees, with few exemptions. Not all health care workers think that mandates make the patients, or them, safe.

But they may have no recourse.

Atlanta-based Piedmont Healthcare, with its 11 hospitals, officially announced this week that it is now beginning to require all 23,000 employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 (See full statement below).

No employee can refuse, with few exceptions.

As of September 1, as 11Alive first reported last month, all new Piedmont employees, as well as physicians and providers, will be in the first group required to get the shots. The rest of the employees will be included later.

Only one other hospital group in Georgia, so far, St. Mary’s Health Care System, is requiring employees of its three hospitals to be vaccinated.

St. Mary’s said most of its employees are already vaccinated (See full statement below).

RELATED: Government shares COVID-19 vaccine and treatment injury claims after 11Alive investigation

Emory Healthcare in Atlanta is encouraging, but not yet requiring, employees to be vaccinated, but said Tuesday that more than two-thirds of its workforce received the shots voluntarily.

"Emory Healthcare is not requiring the COVID-19 vaccination for its employees while the vaccines are under Emergency Use Authorization by the FDA," said a hospital spokesperson in an email to 11Alive on Tuesday. "We will continue to review ongoing safety and effectiveness data and reassess our decision upon full FDA approval." (Full statement below)

It was just a month ago, in Texas, when Houston Methodist became the first hospital in the nation to require staff to get the COVID-19 vaccines.

About 150 employees refused, out of 24,000, and they lost their jobs-- including a veteran registered nurse, Jennifer Bridges, who doesn’t believe the vaccines are proven safe. Bridges said none of her patients ever asked her if she’s vaccinated.

“Never did they care if I was vaccinated,” Bridges said. “And we all wear proper PPE, anyway. So, vaccinated or not, we’re not going to spread anything.”

But a federal judge in Houston ruled that the hospital does have the right to mandate the vaccinations and fire the protestors, setting a legal precedent.

Still, two weeks ago, Georgia Health News reported that, nationwide, “a disturbing number of hospital workers is still unvaccinated,” based on federal data.

One in four, on average, has not gotten the shots, according to the Georgia Health News research.

But according to Becker’s Hospital Review, as of Tuesday night, 31 hospitals and health systems in the U.S. are now requiring employees to be vaccinated, except for those with medical or religious or other exemptions.

Hundreds of thousands of hospital employees are under the mandate, so far, nationwide, and more are added to the list every day, joining the two hospital groups in Georgia, so far.

Below are the statements 11Alive received from local hospitals.

PIEDMONT HEALTHCARE:

In order to provide the safest environment for our patients and for our team, we are requiring Piedmont leaders, physicians, providers and new employees to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19, as of Sept. 1, with a few rare exceptions. This is in keeping with our policy of requiring proof of vaccination or titers confirming immunity to Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR) and Varicella for new employees and in requiring the annual flu vaccine for all current employees. The rest of our Piedmont family will be required to be fully vaccinated in the near future. It’s important to consider that vaccination is a leading factor in patients and team members feeling safe within a healthcare setting, as shown by research we conducted. Moreover, it is in keeping with our peers from other leading health systems throughout the United States. 

We are inspired by how our Piedmont team has stepped up to serve during the pandemic, and with this decision are proud to further Piedmont’s role as a leader in helping our communities achieve safety and well-being. As a healthcare organization, science underlies our fundamental purpose, and in this case, science has provided a clear path forward.

ST. MARY’S HEALTH CARE SYSTEM / TRINITY HEALTH:

As part of Trinity Health, St. Mary's will require all colleagues, clinical staff, contractors and those conducting business in our facilities to be vaccinated against COVID-19. This requirement applies to Trinity Health's more than 117,000 employees in 22 states nationwide and is being made in an effort to stop the spread of the virus and keep all patients, colleagues and the broader communities we serve safe.

 The requirement includes all three St. Mary's hospitals – St. Mary's Hospital in Athens, St. Mary's Sacred Heart Hospital in Lavonia, and St. Mary's Good Samaritan Hospital in Greensboro – as well as our medical staff offices, outpatient facilities and retirement community.

 Since December 2020, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first vaccine for Emergency Use Authorization, the majority of Trinity Health colleagues have received at least one dose of vaccine. The new policy is intended to close the gap for the safety of all our patients, colleagues and providers.

 With more than 331 million doses safely administered in the U.S., it's clear that the authorized COVID vaccinations are safe and effective. Today, more than 99 percent of COVID-19 deaths are occurring in unvaccinated people. The time is right to take this step, especially as the Delta variant is spreading rapidly. The Delta variant is much more contagious and potentially more deadly than earlier forms of the virus. Natural immunity to the Delta variant is very low, even among those who had another form of COVID. However, the vaccines have been shown to provide good protection against serious illness and death from all known COVID variants, including Delta. 

 We know some colleagues have concerns about the vaccine. We are reaching out to all colleagues with town halls, team huddles, and other interactive communications to answer their questions and address their concerns. We want them to know the vaccine is safe and effective and that they are valued. At the end of the day, it is our sacred duty to protect all those we serve by ensuring our providers and colleagues have the maximum possible protection against COVID-19 before the onset of cold weather. 

EMORY HEALTHCARE:

Emory Healthcare strongly encourages our health care employees and providers without medical contraindications to receive the COVID-19 vaccine to help protect our patients, themselves, each other and our community. Emory vaccine clinics have been set up at a centralized location and at our hospitals to facilitate convenient access for our health care workers. More than two-thirds of our workforce has been vaccinated. If employees and physicians receive their vaccination at Emory, no further action is needed to show proof of vaccination. If they receive a vaccination outside of Emory, they must upload their CDC vaccination card to the Emory human resources system. To date, Emory Healthcare has administered more than 180,000 COVID-19 vaccinations to Emory Healthcare patients and staff, Emory University faculty, staff and students and community members since December 2020.

Emory Healthcare is not requiring the COVID-19 vaccination for its employees while the vaccines are under Emergency Use Authorization by the FDA. We will continue to review ongoing safety and effectiveness data and reassess our decision upon full FDA approval.