CHICAGO — Some Illinois hospital systems are losing hundreds of employees as deadlines loom for health care workers to get COVID-19 vaccines — even as most workers have agreed to get the shots.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker set a deadline of Sept. 19 for all Illinois health care workers to get their first shots, with their second shots due within 30 days, which would have been Oct. 19, at the latest. Those who didn’t get shots by the deadline would have to be tested for COVID-19 weekly, he said.
But, in many cases, individual hospital systems set stricter rules than Pritzker, requiring their workers to be vaccinated by certain dates or turn in their badges.
But about 440 workers at Advocate Aurora Health in Illinois and Wisconsin “have parted ways” with the system because they weren’t vaccinated by Advocate’s Friday deadline and they didn’t have approved medical or religious exemptions, spokesman Mike Riopell said. Many of those individuals were not full-time employees. Overall, about 99% of the system’s 75,000 employees are vaccinated or have approved exemptions, or are in the process of doing so.
Nearly 100 of Rush University Medical Center workers stand to have their employment terminated because they didn’t get vaccinated or get approved exemptions, said Courtney Kammer, chief human resources officer at Rush. Overall, about 98% of Rush’s workers are vaccinated.
At Southern Illinois Healthcare, about 220 people are no longer employed because they refused to roll up their sleeves, said spokeswoman Rosslind Rice, though the vast majority of employees got vaccinated. The deadline to have started the vaccination process at Southern Illinois Healthcare was Sept. 24.
“The whole thing has been very emotional because some of these people are our friends,” Rice said. “It’s just what our world has come to, where we’re in a position where we’re at odds with people. ... We have to move forward.”
The deadlines hit as many hospitals face staffing challenges, because of COVID-19 burnout and general labor shortages. But many Illinois hospital leaders say they’re not overly worried by the vaccine turnover.
The systems losing hundreds of workers are large ones, so the employees refusing vaccines represent only small fractions of their workforces.
Southern Illinois Healthcare expects to be able to replace the departed workers with new ones quickly, Rice said. The system has been receiving a record number of job applications and has welcomed many new employees in recent weeks, she said.