For the Record: Most of Wisconsin’s major health care systems requiring staff to get vaccinated

MADISON, Wis. — In the past two weeks, an escalating number of major health care systems around Wisconsin have announced COVID-19 vaccination requirements for their staff.

On Sunday’s For the Record, Naomi Kowles is joined by Dane County executive Joe Parisi, Mo Kharbat from SSM Health, and Dr. David Letzer from the Wisconsin Medical Society to discuss the week’s rise in requirements.

Dane County became the first local government in the state, alongside the city of Madison, to set a vaccine requirement or an alternative of weekly covid testing for staff. SSM Health led the way in health care in late June, becoming the first health care system in Wisconsin to make the requirement. Additionally, the Wisconsin Medical Society issued a call earlier this week urging every health care system in the state to implement a similar requirement.

The announcements prompted pushback from the legislature’s third-ranking Republican, Senate President Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield), who issued a statement Friday urging health care staff to resist.

“Over the past week, I have had many conversations with healthcare workers who are opposed to vaccine mandates being implemented by some healthcare systems in Wisconsin. Once they were hailed as heroes; but now, those who refuse to get the Covid-19 vaccine might very well find themselves fired from their jobs!” Sen. Kapenga said in a statement. “I want to encourage the groups that are forming to stick to your principles and don’t give in! Based on what I am seeing, it will be impossible for the hospital systems to function without you.”

Many of the announcements follow U.S. Department of Justice guidance issued last week, affirming that the federal law allowed employers to require vaccinations, even when the vaccines were still on emergency authorization status with the FDA.

“We don’t want our patients to not want to come to the hospital in fear of getting Covid,” Mo Kharbat said. “We want them to know that we will create a safe environment for them so that when they come to us seeking care for any reason, that they will not get Covid here because the employees and health care providers taking care of them are vaccinated themselves.”

“If you look at hospitalization rates, 98% of those or higher are basically unvaccinated,” Dr. Letzer added. “This right now is essentially a disease of the unvaccinated.”

So far, here’s which major health systems in Wisconsin have a vaccine requirement in place for staff, with varying deadlines largely falling in mid to late fall:

Vaccine Requirement (as of 8/6/2021):
SSM Health
Ascension
Children’s Wisconsin
Mayo Clinic
ProHealth Care
Medical College of Wisconsin
Prevea Health
Advocate Aurora Health
UW Health
Essentia Health
Marshfield Clinic Health System
Froedtert Health
UnityPoint Health

No requirement yet (some have indicated they are weighing a mandate):
Aspirus
MercyHealth
HSHS Medical Group
ThedaCare
Bellin Health
Gundersen
Beloit Health System