Ascension Wisconsin requiring all employees to get COVID vaccine

Other area health systems considering similar mandate

A dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.

Ascension Wisconsin has joined a growing list of health care systems in the state to require the COVID-19 vaccine for all employees.

The Glendale-based health system announced its vaccine mandate Tuesday, citing the continuing pandemic and emergence of new COVID variants.

SSM Health and Mayo Clinic Health System have both already implemented vaccine requirements for their employees. Ascension is the first in southeastern Wisconsin to do so.

Ascension’s requirement applies to all associates, regardless of whether they provide direct patient care, or whether they work on-site or remotely. It also applies to those employed by Ascension subsidiaries and partners; physicians and advanced practice providers, whether employed or independent; and volunteers and vendors entering Ascension facilities.

Ascension said it “conducted a thorough moral and ethical analysis” as part of its decision-making progress regarding the vaccine requirement.

“This decision is rooted in our mission commitment to leading with quality and safety,” the health system said. “As a health care provider and as a Catholic ministry, ensuring we have a culture of safety for our associates, patients and communities is foundational to our work.”

The deadline for employees to complete the vaccine series is Nov. 12. That timeline aligns with the health system’s annual influenza vaccination requirement.

Ascension said it will follow a similar exemption-request process as it does for the influenza vaccine for employees who may not be able to get vaccinated due to a medical condition or strongly-held religious belief.

Ascension said tens of thousands of its employees have already been vaccinated.

The American Nursing Association and American Medical Association this week said they are advocating that all health care and long-term care employers require their workers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

“This is the logical fulfillment of the ethical commitment of all health care workers to put patients as well as residents of long-term care facilities first and take all steps necessary to ensure their health and well-being,” the AMA said in a statement Monday.

A spokesman with Wauwatosa-based Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin health network said Wednesday that the health system is in the “final stages” of considering a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for its employees, citing the ANA and AMA guidance.

Milwaukee- and Downers Grove, Illinois-based Advocate Aurora Health is also evaluating a possible mandate for its employees.

“While the COVID-19 vaccine is not mandatory for our team members yet, we continue to evaluate based on the rapid spread of highly contagious variants and an increase in cases and hospitalizations,” a spokesman with the health system said. “We are strongly encouraging our team members to get vaccinated as we know the vaccines are safe and effective and are our ticket out of the pandemic.”

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services stressed Wednesday the importance of getting vaccinated, in light of the upward trend in new COVID-19 cases.

“We are concerned with this trajectory along with the increasing proportion of sequenced SARS-CoV-2 specimens that are the Delta variant,” said DHS deputy secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk.

DHS said from Jan. 1 through July 22, over 98% of COVID cases in Wisconsin occurred among people who were not fully vaccinated.

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