UnityPoint Requires Staff Vaccinations; How Will GOP Legislators Respond?

UnityPoint Health announced Thursday it will require all of its more than 33,000 staff members to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Nov. 1.

The hospital system is one of Iowa’s largest and its flagship hospital is in Des Moines. They also operate in Wisconsin and Illinois.

It joins the growing trend of health care facilities requiring COVID-19 vaccinations such as Trinity Health, Sanford Health, and some MercyOne locations.

“After thoughtful consideration, we believe this vaccination requirement will help keep our team members, patients, and communities as healthy as possible, so we can focus on what we do best—delivering exceptional care to those we serve,” said President Clay Holderman in a press release about the decision.

Exceptions will be allowed for medical and religious reasons. Pregnant employees will be allowed to ask for a deferral.

All of this comes at the chagrin of some state Republican lawmakers, who may yet push for additional bans on COVID-19 safety measures by private businesses during a yet-to-be-scheduled special session next month.

On July 21, seventeen Republican legislators issued an open letter to Trinity Health condemning its vaccine requirement and asking for an explanation of the policy.

“I’d like to prevent other employers from making this same mistake,” Sen. Jason Schultz told Radio Iowa at the time.

Meanwhile on Facebook, several conservative legislators have begun to request information from health care employees who work for a hospital system enforcing a vaccine requirement.

Rep. Steve Holt in particular has suggested he may be working on a response to those hospitals’ decision.

“We did not address what individual businesses do, because there are competing rights involved,” Holt wrote in late July of legislation passed to block so-called vaccine passports. “Now, we must have this profoundly important debate … I will take action and work to correct this in the weeks to come.”

In May, the Legislature and Gov. Kim Reynolds banned schools—public and private—from mandating masks to prevent COVID-19 spread among children and faculty. They also passed a law banning businesses and local governments from receiving state grants and contracts if they require proof of vaccination for customers.

Health care systems were exempt from that ban, as were vaccine requirements for employees.

Many of the same Republican legislators who have been the most outspoken on driving doubt on the pandemic now say the health care worker requirements violate individual rights.

“I believe this violates individual liberties, and when we granted a health care exemption, these mandates are not inline with what was intended in our legislation,” Rep. Cherielynn Westrich told an Ottumwa radio station.

Another legislator, Rep. Mark Cisneros, has shared Facebook posts from Iowans for Informed Consent, an anti-vaccine group, advocating for legislation that would allow health care workers to remain unvaccinated.

The American Hospital Association supports hospitals mandating vaccinations for employees, and “strongly urges” that personnel be vaccinated.

 

by Nikoel Hytrek
08/05/21

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