EIGHT CHICAGO-AREA COMMUNITY HEALTH CENTERS ANNOUNCE PLANS TO REQUIRE COVID-19 VACCINATION AMONG HEALTHCARE EMPLOYEES
Effort seeks to increase staff and patient safety as new variants and rising case numbers become a concern across the metropolitan area
In an effort to stem the spread of the more transmissible COVID-19 Delta variant and protect the health of staff and patients seeking care, a consortium of 8 community health centers announced plans to start requiring employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine during the month of September. The participating organizations serve nearly 208,000 low-income patients and include Alivio Medical Center, AHS Family Health Center, CommunityHealth, Esperanza Health Centers, Hamdard Health Alliance, Lawndale Christian Health Center, PCC Community Wellness Center and PrimeCare Health.
“This decision was not taken lightly, but the rapid increase in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations requires us to be especially proactive at a time when highly-effective vaccines are widely available,” said Dan Fulwiler, President and CEO of Esperanza Health Centers. “Preserving the health of our personnel, patients and employees is our top responsibility and we believe this measure will help us better protect our families and communities.”
Under the plan, health centers will be requiring their unvaccinated staff to get a first dose of any currently authorized COVID-19 vaccine during the month of September, with deadlines varying by specific organization. Health centers will continue to offer personalized education to any unvaccinated employees, deliver doses at no cost, and provide time off so employees can get their shots, or manage any potential side effects. Exceptions for medical or religious reasons would be granted but need approval from employee health as is common for other workplace vaccine requirements.
With the city’s vaccination effort entering its eighth month, health leaders across Chicago are expressing concern that rates of fully vaccinated individuals have stalled, with some communities struggling to rise above 40% or 50%. Experts broadly agree that the COVID-19 Delta variant is more transmissible and warn that tens of thousands of unvaccinated – or partially-vaccinated – residents are at significant risk of becoming sick if a new surge materializes.
“As community health centers, we’ve already seen up close the kind of devastation the pandemic has wrought in the low-income communities that we serve,” said Esther Corpuz, CEO of Alivio Medical Center. “We also know that vaccine mandates can be extraordinarily effective at increasing vaccination, which is our number one public health priority. If we can contribute to that effort, and encourage other businesses and organizations to follow suit, we may blunt the impact of this latest increase in cases.”
The health centers that have currently signed on provide services in some of the neighborhoods most severely affected by COVID-19. While these centers currently report staff vaccination rates of between 85% and 95%, they stressed that organization-wide compliance was needed to ensure that health centers were meeting the highest standards of safety for their patients.
“Severe illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19 are now preventable tragedies,” said Stephanie Willding, CEO of CommunityHealth. “We have the tools to end the pandemic here at home. It’s our obligation to press forward and lead the way so our communities can remain safe.”
As of August 16, 2021
Alivio Medical Center
AHS Family Health Center
Esperanza Health Centers
Hamdard Health Alliance
Lawndale Christian Health Center
PCC Community Wellness Center