Valley Health tells workers to get vaccinated
Nicole Clark wants the nurses she supervises to do everything they can to keep themselves, their patients and co-workers safe from COVID-19.
That means wearing personal protective equipment, social distancing, frequent hand washing — and getting vaccinated against the disease.
Valley Health, a nonprofit health system that includes Winchester Medical Center and five other hospitals, as well as urgent care facilities and physician practices, announced in July that all employees, medical providers and contractors will be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
“This was just one more thing we could add to our toolkit to protect our patients and our staff,” says Clark, a nursing director at Winchester Medical Center.
Valley Health has about 6,300 employees, and about 72% have received a COVID-19 vaccine, according to Valley Health President and CEO Mark Nantz.
In Virginia, Inova Health System, Mary Washington Healthcare and VCU Health System also require staff to receive COVID-19 immunizations. UVA Health requires all new employees to be vaccinated before beginning work. Current employees must either be vaccinated, have had COVID-19 in the last 150 days, or be working remotely to avoid weekly COVID-19 tests.
More than 55 medical groups, including the American Medical Association, issued a statement in July supporting mandatory COVID-19 vaccines for health care workers.
“I think you’ll see more and more [health systems] require it as the days go by,” says Nantz.
That’s not to say everyone was happy with Valley Health’s new policy.
On July 26, the Front Royal Town Council heard from more than 50 residents over a proposed ordinance to prohibit town employers from terminating workers who refuse to get a COVID-19 vaccine. The council rejected the measure by 3-2.
Brittany Watson, a registered nurse at Winchester Medical Center, and her girlfriend, Katherine Hart, a nurse practitioner at nearby Valley Health Urgent Care in Martinsburg, West Virginia, planned to lead protests over the mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy in early August.
Watson and Hart both fell ill with COVID-19 in 2020. Neither woman plans to get a vaccine. “I believe in natural immunity,” Watson says.
Nantz expects some employees will leave Valley Health over the requirement. Watson and Hart are considering opening an independent practice together.
It’s a price Valley Health System is willing to pay. “I need a vaccinated workforce that’s well-protected,” Nantz says.