MIAMI — With a Jan. 4 deadline looming for medical providers to abide by new federal rules and fully vaccinate their workers against COVID-19, many of South Florida’s largest hospitals are reporting that they have achieved staff vaccination rates of 80% or higher using policies that strongly encourage the shots but do not make them a condition of employment.
Still, the few South Florida hospitals that did announce a vaccine mandate have achieved even higher coverage rates of 90% or more of their employees while losing a small fraction of workers.
Jackson Health System, Miami-Dade’s public hospital network, adopted a carrot-and-stick approach to raise the vaccination rate among its more than 13,000 employees — from about 61% in August, when the policy was introduced, to 84% in November.
“I think it’s a very solid number,” said Carlos Migoya, Jackson Health’s chief executive.
The county’s public health care system offered $150 bonuses to staff who got vaccinated by Sept. 30, and imposed mask requirements on unvaccinated employees while restricting their movements indoors. Recently, Jackson Health and its labor unions agreed to a biweekly penalty of $50 for employees who are still unvaccinated by January.
Migoya said the policy tries to strike a balance between employees’ personal freedoms and Jackson Health’s responsibility to keep workers and patients safe.
“If we had one employee who was positive and somehow infected a patient,” he said, “it would be horrible.”
Baptist mandate leads to high compliance rate
Baptist Health South Florida adopted a vaccine mandate in August — the same month that the health care system’s 11 hospitals in Monroe, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties reported a pandemic high of 970 inpatients with COVID-19.
Dr. Bernie Fernandez, who leads Baptist Health Medical Group and the occupational health department, said the hospital system saw a 99% compliance rate with the vaccine mandate among its 24,000 employees.