A panel of health care experts in Indianapolis on Friday endorsed President Biden’s order that all businesses with more than 100 employees require their workers to be immunized or face weekly testing.
That’s even as Gov. Eric Holcomb and other leading Republicans here have pushed back against Biden’s order, saying it is not the government’s role to issue vaccine mandates for citizens or private businesses.
“The pandemic will end when everybody has been immunized,” Dr. Ram Yeleti, chief physician executive of Community Health Network, said during a panel discussion at IBJ’s Health Care & Benefits Power Panel event. “… I’m a strong advocate for mandated vaccination. That is the way out.”
He said Community Health’s six hospitals are treating 200 patients with COVID-19 today, and all but five are unvaccinated. Laying down vaccination requirements is the only way forward, he added.
(In the video below, Nicolas Terry, executive director of the Hall Center for Law and Health at Indiana University’s McKinney School of Law, discusses Indiana’s response to the pandemic and the future of health care.)
Most of the hospitals in central Indiana have set deadlines for their workers to get vaccinated. The state’s large hospital system, Indiana University Health, confirmed last week that 125 employees, out of a workforce of about 36,000, had chosen not to get vaccinated by the Sept. 1 deadline and had parted ways.
Community Health Network, Eskenazi Health, Ascension St. Vincent, and Franciscan Health have also mandated vaccinations for their workers.
Biden’s order would require most health care facilities that accept Medicare or Medicaid funding to vaccinate their employees, which the White House believes will cover 50,000 locations.
“We’re largely moving in this direction anyway,” said Brian Tabor, president of the Indiana Hospital Association, which represents more than 170 hospitals. “Many of our hospitals have already implemented or outlined a vaccination requirement.”
Some large employers in central Indiana, including Eli Lilly and Co. and Roche Diagnostics have also set out employee vaccination requirements. But many other businesses have not, preferring to offer incentives, including cash bonuses, paid time off and reductions in health care premiums.
Nicolas Terry, executive director of the Hall Center for Law and Health at Indiana University’s McKinney School of Law, said incentives have worked up to a point, but with virus variants causing additional surges and overwhelming the health system, it’s time to lay down the law.
“We do have to have mandates and regular testing unless you’re vaccinated, loss of employment unless you’re vaccinated, and no entry to sporting or arts events unless you’re vaccinated,” Terry said.
Zachary Cattell, president of the Indiana Health Care Association, which represents many of the state’s nursing homes, say the pandemic has taken a toll on nurses and other caregivers.
“Understandably, our health care professionals and families are frustrated with how long this pandemic has dragged on, and the vaccine is absolutely the way out,” Cattell said.
The president’s order also compels all federal employees to get vaccinated—without an option for those who prefer to be regularly tested instead—in an effort to create a model he hopes state governments will embrace.
“We’re in a tough stretch, and it could last for a while,” Biden said in an address from the White House earlier this month. He added, “What makes it incredibly more frustrating is we have the tools to combat COVID-19, and a distinct minority of Americans, supported by a distinct minority of elected officials, are keeping us from turning the corner.”
Holcomb, who has long urged Hoosiers to get COVID-19 vaccines, pushed back against President Biden’s order. In a statement earlier this month, Holcomb called it “a bridge too far” and said it is not the government’s role to issue vaccine mandates on citizens or private businesses.
“I believe it is fundamentally a citizen’s right to choose whether or not to get the vaccine,” Holcomb said in a written statement. “While I wish everyone would get the vaccine, we are a country built on this exact type of freedom.”
But the health industry seems solidly in the president’s corner—even medical and nursing schools.
“All of our students in the health professions at Marian University are required to get vaccinated,” said Dr. Amanda Wright, dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine. “… Anything we can do for our patients sake is very important to us.”