Health systems leverage leaders to encourage workforce COVID-19 vaccination

In the months leading up to the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, key members of the C-suite at Trinity Health told employees they plan to take it at their first opportunity.

The Livonia, Mich.-based health system has been hosting series of town halls about the safety and efficacy of the vaccines after a survey of employees conducted before vaccine distribution began showed only about 60% were willing to take it.

In communications with staff, Dr. Daniel Roth, chief clinical officer, said he’s made clear his eagerness to take the vaccine after workers in patient-facing jobs get their chance. Trinity Health’s CEO, Mike Slubowski, has told employees he’ll be taking the vaccine as well at his first opportunity, according to Roth. 

“We wanted to focus first on our front-line caregivers,” Roth said. “For our leadership team and for people like me, we have said, ‘We’ll get the vaccine when it’s our turn and we are eager for that.’ ”

Trinity’s C-suite is set to get their vaccine starting this week.

Trinity isn’t alone in seeing hesitancy among staff. A survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted prior to the release of the vaccines showed roughly 60% of healthcare workers said they were willing to get vaccinated.

With vaccinations underway, there are reports of workers continuing to show reluctance. There’s no central database tracking how many healthcare workers nationwide are being vaccinated. The CDC reports the total number of doses distributed and administered, but the first wave of vaccinations included the elderly.

Concern about the safety of the vaccine appears to be the most common reason. Health systems are responding through various tactics including education and making it public when trusted local and system-wide leadership receive or plan to receive their shots.

“(Identify) who the influencers (at an organization) are. It may be the ICU nurse who is a major influencer in the hospital system. Really highlighting the influencers getting vaccinated and then sharing the message of new hope, is a potential strategy,” said Dr. David Zieg, clinical services leader at human resources consultancy Mercer.

It’s a tactic major health systems are deploying. Lloyd Dean, CEO of CommonSpirit Health, received the vaccine Dec. 29 after weeks of it being offered to front-line caregivers, a spokesman said in an email, adding, “We think it’s important for our hospital and system leaders to show that they’re willing to receive the vaccine alongside their staff.” 

Dr. Rod Hochman, CEO of Providence, will get the vaccine after more front-line caregivers have the opportunity, according to a spokeswoman at the Renton, Wash.-based health system. He plans to inform staff when he does get the shot.

At Ochsner Health, the chief medical, nursing and academic officers received the vaccine, which was photographed and shared with staff.

Zieg said it’s a delicate balance for health systems to show leadership getting vaccinated while also ensuring patient-facing workers are prioritized.

“The CEO, (isn’t) a front-line healthcare worker typically, so I’d worry about a mixed-message of skipping lines. There is a lot of importance around making sure that groups are getting the vaccine that need the vaccine first.” 

Mount Sinai Health System in New York is taking that approach. Leaders with no patient interactions haven’t received the vaccine, said Dr. Waleed Javaid, director of infection prevention and control at Mount Sinai.

“If a member of the C-suite never goes to a clinical area, they are not prioritized,” he said. “You want to be fair.”

Javaid does interact with patients and therefore did receive the vaccine. “I’m proudly saying to everyone I did get vaccinated,” he said. 

The town halls at Trinity Health appear to be working, Roth said. They are well attended and since vaccine rollout began Dec. 14, about 40% of employees have been vaccinated. A recent poll of employees at the system level shows 70% are now willing to get vaccinated.

Similarly, New Orleans-based Ochsner is seeing interest in the vaccine increase among workers as rollout continues, said Dr. Robert Hart, chief medical officer. While just under 50% of the health system’s employees have been vaccinated, interest has spiked recently as the first group gets their second shot.

“There was a group of our employees who were kind of taking this ‘let me wait and see how that first run goes’ (approach), and now that people are getting their second shot, there is kind of this collective sigh of, ‘Well OK, we can go ahead and do it,’ ” Hart said.

Appointments for employees to get vaccinated have been fully booked, added Dr. Katherine Baumgarten, system medical director of infection control and prevention.

Health systems are deploying other tactics to encourage vaccination. Houston Methodist is offering a $500 bonus to employees who get the vaccine.

Dr. Marc Boom, CEO of the system, said the decision was made upon recognizing that hesitancy would likely be a concern. He said about 50% of employees, particularly caregivers on COVID-19 units, have been quick to get vaccinated. But he said there are probably about 10% to 15% of employees who are incredibly hesitant, while the remaining 40% are taking a “wait and see” approach. 

“We are hoping this bonus program is a little bit of a nudge to move a little faster than they would have otherwise,” he said. 

The hospital system has also hosted town halls and encouraged managers who have been vaccinated to talk about it with their employees. Boom said he’s also made it clear that the vaccine will eventually be mandatory. 

So far, about 66% of Houston Methodist employees overall and 80% of employed physicians have been vaccinated. The bonuses will be given out in March.

At Baptist Health Louisville, medical staff are more likely to get vaccinated than nonclinical personnel such as environmental service workers and cooking staff, said Larry Gray, president of the 500-bed Kentucky hospital. 

Lack of clinical understanding, misinformation from outside sources, general mistrust of the medical community and language barriers are reasons workers aren’t getting vaccinated, he said. 

In response, Baptist plans over the next few weeks to concentrate strongly on vaccination messaging to nonclinical personnel. Gray will be creating a video with an infectious-disease leader that addresses common questions and concerns about the vaccine. The video will be played during staff huddles for nonclinical workers. Additionally, translators are being deployed on units to ask non-English speaking employees about getting registered for the vaccine. 

“We are not forcing anyone to make the decision (to get vaccinated) but we want to make sure they have full access” should they want to, he said.


Tags: covid-19, pandemic

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