Baystate Health to Require COVID-19 Vaccinations for Workers Across System

SPRINGFIELD — Baystate Health announced a sweeping COVID-19 vaccination mandate for colleagues on Monday.

“At Baystate Health, our top priority is to protect the health and safety of our patients, team members, and community,” the memo to employees begins. “It represents the foundation of our organizational mission and has served as the guiding principle underlying our response to the pandemic. Throughout the past 16 months, you — our team members — have worked tirelessly to do everything possible to keep our patients and team members safe from COVID-19. You have rigorously adhered to every recommended infection-control process and intervention because you understand that we have a duty to our patients to ensure a safe environment in which they receive care.

“Since vaccines became available, 75% of you made the effort to get fully vaccinated because you recognized that this is the single most effective way to protect our patients, fellow team members, and to ensure a safe workplace. It is now time for the rest of us to do our part to ensure a safe work and care environment by getting vaccinated against COVID-19. To advance this goal, Baystate Health will require all employed team members, including those working remotely, clinical staff, contractors, volunteers, students, and those conducting business within our health system, to be fully vaccinated by October 1, 2021.”

Baystate noted that the rate of COVID-19 infection in the U.S. is rising in all 50 states, including Massachusetts. “Our community is at risk of experiencing a fourth pandemic wave, and cases would be concentrated in unvaccinated individuals and would likely result in more severe illness due to the spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19. This would have a disproportionate, detrimental impact on our community and our patients, because Western Massachusetts currently has lower vaccination rates than most of the state. The single most effective way to protect our workplace, each other, and our patients is to get vaccinated. More than 160 million people in the U.S., and more than 1 billion worldwide, have been vaccinated against COVID-19. These vaccines have proven to be very safe and highly effective at preventing COVID-19 infection, including that caused by the Delta variant. In the unlikely event of a breakthrough infection, the risk of severe disease or death due to COVID-19 is vanishingly low.”

The letter noted that mandatory COVID-19 vaccination of healthcare personnel has been advocated by numerous national expert organizations, including the Infectious Diseases Society of America, the Society of Healthcare Epidemiology of America, the American Nurses Assoc., and the American Hospital Assoc., and has been adopted by numerous healthcare organizations across the country and in this region. Additionally, Baystate already mandates vaccinating its workforce against influenza and several other infectious diseases, such as measles, mumps, and rubella. “It is for all these reasons that Baystate Health is instituting a mandatory vaccine policy for our employees.”

The organization will issue a more detailed communication on Aug. 2 that will include the new policy statement and will provide details on the process for requesting an exemption for religious or medical reasons. This is consistent with the Baystate Health mandatory influenza-vaccine policy (however, the list of potential medical reasons is different and is CDC-defined). Employees who are pregnant may request a deferral. The Aug. 2 communication will also provide specific instructions for those needing to validate a COVID-19 vaccine received outside of Baystate Health or who need to receive the vaccine. It will also provide links to educational materials. A phone support line will be established to help team members get their questions answered.

“Thank you,” the letter concludes, “for helping us create the safest care environment possible for our patients and each other.”