‘We feel good’: SSM Health vaccination rate climbs from 77 percent to more than 99 percent during mandate

MADISON, Wis. – When SSM Health announced it would be requiring all staff to get vaccinated against COVID-19 in late June, it was one of the first major healthcare systems to do so.

Since then, the vaccine has received full FDA approval, the Delta variant has surged in Wisconsin and SSM has upped its vaccination levels by nearly 23 percent.

We are at the forefront here when it comes to fighting the pandemic as a healthcare provider in the communities we serve,” said Mo Kharbat, VP of Pharmacy Services for SSM Health. “We’re very proud to know we were among the first, the very first health systems in the country to tell the communities we serve – don’t be worried if you have to go to a hospital clinic to receive care. It will be safe.”

Kharbat says while nearly 1 in 4 of Wisconsin’s 14,000 SSM Health staff weren’t vaccinated prior to the mandate, the FDA approval and risk presented by the Delta variant proved to be convincing factors.

There were employees, individuals in general in the community who were on the fence, saying ‘We know the vaccine works, we know it’s safe, but we’re not sure if we should get it yet’,” Kharbat said. “When we came up with the mandate, more and more employees came up and said ‘You know what, it’s time to get the vaccine. It’s safe, there’s data that proves the vaccine is safe’.”

In Verona, Epic Systems reported similar vaccination levels following its mandate.

According to a statement from an Epic Systems spokesperson, fewer than half of one percent of employees chose to leave the company instead of getting vaccinated.

Kharbat says next, the focus will shift to preparing vaccines for kids under the age of 12. While SSM Health is also offering boosters to employees who qualify, he says there is no talk of mandating a booster at this time.

For now, he says he’s proud of the staff at SSM for leading the way.

It tells us that SSM health, we create a culture of safety for our employees and our patients,” he said. “Our employees who are healthcare workers and providers, they believe in that. They want to come to work and feel safe. That they’re not going to get COVID and take COVID with them back home. They want to make sure they are safe, the patients are safe, then when they go back home, their families are safe as well.”

UW Health and Unity Point Health Meriter also have vaccine mandates in place, and will require staff take their final dose of the vaccine by Nov 1.