Swedish, Virginia Mason Franciscan Health announce new COVID vaccination requirements for health care workers

Swedish, Virginia Mason Franciscan Health announce new COVID vaccination requirements for health care workers

Two major Seattle-area hospitals this week announced a new COVID-19 policy requiring all employees to be vaccinated, joining a growing group of health care centers making the shift.

Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, based in Seattle with locations throughout Western Washington, said in a statement Friday that the decision came after “careful consideration” of patients’ and employees’ safety.

“We believe this is a necessary step in order to keep patients and team members safe, and to ensure our communities have full confidence in the safety of their care environments,” Dr. Michael Anderson, the hospital’s chief medical officer, said in the statement.

The details of the vaccine requirement are still being finalized, he added.

Swedish Health Services, which operates five hospital campuses in the Seattle area, announced a similar policy earlier this week.

Swedish’s new policy supports infection-prevention planning and allows hospital management to “rapidly determine and respond to risk” in case of an exposure within Swedish facilities, according to a statement from hospital spokesperson Tiffany Moss.

It will also help Swedish determine appropriate staffing for high-risk care areas, like immunocompromised patient care settings, and plan for necessary supplies and equipment.

Workers requesting medical or religious exemptions would be excused from the requirement.

“We know that vaccination is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and associated severe illness, hospitalization and death,” the statement said. “As a health care provider, Swedish wants to help protect our patients and each other, and the vaccine is our path forward.”

As of July 21, about 85% of Swedish caregivers were partially or fully vaccinated.

The news comes about a week after King County health officials announced their recommendation for hospitals and long-term care facilities to require COVID-19 vaccinations for all health care workers. In late July, the Washington State Hospital Association also urged hospitals to introduce stricter vaccination policies among staff, a move prompted by health care centers’ tightening capacity and an influx of COVID-19 hospitalizations.

“No patient should have to worry about getting COVID-19 from a health care provider,” King County health officer Dr. Jeff Duchin said in a statement at the time.

Some hospitals have already implemented a vaccination mandate for their workers, including all University of Washington Medicine hospitals and clinics.

The policy aligns with UW Medicine’s broader campus policy for faculty, staff, trainees and student employees, the department has said. This week, UW Medicine hospitals were approaching a 90% vaccination rate among their health care workers.

Others, like Bellevue-based Overlake Medical Center & Clinics and Seattle Children’s, are not requiring employees to get vaccinated, though both have said they’re “strongly encouraging” hospital staff to get immunized.