OAKLAND (CBS SF) -- Kaiser Permanente, the nation's largest nonprofit health care organization, announced Monday that it will make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for all its employees, including physicians.
A press release issued by the organization on Monday said that the mandate marked another step in the "ongoing effort to protect the health and safety of its workforce and the patients they care for."
"As the country's largest integrated care delivery system, we feel it is our responsibility to do everything we can to help bring an end to the pandemic, especially in light of the dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases from the highly infectious Delta variant," Chair and CEO of Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and Health Plan, Inc. Greg Adams said in a statement.
"Large groups of unvaccinated people are fueling the current increase in cases and 97-99% of COVID-19 hospital admissions are unvaccinated patients," he continued. "Making vaccination mandatory is the most effective way we can protect our people, our patients and the communities we serve. We encourage all health systems and business and industry leaders across the country to play a role in ending the pandemic by doing the same."
According to Kaiser Permanente officials, as of July 31st, 77.8% of employees and more than 95% of physicians have been fully vaccinated. The nonprofit hopes to have 100% of the workforce fully vaccinated by September 30th of this year.
Unvaccinated employees and physicians will be required to become fully vaccinated for COVID-19 or apply for medical or religious exemption.
Employees will be provided additional education on the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine. They will also receive paid administrative time to get vaccinated during work hours.
Michelle Gaskill-Hames, Kaiser's senior vice president for hospital and health plan operations in Northern California, said Kaiser has worked with the labor unions representing its employees to craft the vaccine requirement and both sides did so with an emphasis on maintaining employee safety.
"Our health care workers are tired, they are disappointed that we've got a fourth surge and when we look at it, we believe that this was mostly preventable with vaccinations," Gaskill-Hames said.
While Gaskill-Hames avoided giving exact numbers, she did confirm that Kaiser has had some so-called breakthrough COVID-19 cases among its vaccinated staff members.
She also noted the amount of those cases has been low, even when compared to other health care organizations and hospital settings. Across the entire Kaiser system, roughly 97-99 percent of current hospital admissions have been among unvaccinated people.
The mandate will apply across all of Kaiser's locations in Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Oregon, Virginia, Washington and Washington, D.C. in addition to the health care provider's locations in California, where Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a requirement last week for all health care workers to get vaccinated or be subject to frequent COVID-19 testing.
The organization is working with its labor unions on implementation of the employee vaccination mandate and will also coordinate with local, state and federal laws. In total, Kaiser Permanente employs more than 216,000 people, a statistic that includes 23,000 physicians.
"For 16 months, we have been doing everything we can to save lives, care for COVID-19 patients, and prevent our communities from contracting this deadly virus," said Dr. Ramin Davidoff, Co-CEO of the Permanente Federation. "The COVID-19 vaccines offer us the path to move beyond the pandemic in the same way vaccination has brought an end to the epidemics of smallpox, polio, measles and other deadly diseases."
"We must take action to stop this pandemic and get vaccinated. The COVID-19 vaccines are scientifically proven to be safe and effective, dramatically reducing the risk of death and serious health outcomes if a person becomes infected. With Kaiser Permanente's mandatory vaccination policy, we ensure that we are doing all we can to protect ourselves, each other, and those we serve from this deadly virus," added Dr. Richard Isaacs, Co-CEO of the Permanente Federation.
As of July 30, Kaiser Permanente has cared for more than 907,418 patients with COVID-19 and has safely administered over 6.8 million vaccine doses. Over 68% of Kaiser Permanente members have received at least one dose
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