Stormont Vail Health to require its employees be vaccinated against COVID-19. Here's what that means.

India Yarborough
Topeka Capital-Journal
Stormont Vail president and CEO Robert Kenagy, pictured here, spoke with members of the media Thursday afternoon to announce a new vaccine requirement for Stormont workers.

Stormont Vail Health will now require its employees to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.

In an announcement at Stormont Vail Hospital Thursday afternoon, the health system's president and CEO, Robert Kenagy, said all Stormont employees should be fully inoculated against COVID-19 by Oct. 31.

He said a vaccine requirement for Stormont workers has been under consideration for several weeks. It comes on the heels of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granting full approval late last month to the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine.

More:COVID killed 3.5 times as many Kansans in August 2021 than August 2020. Leaders renew calls to get vaccinated.

Vaccine policy similar to hospital's flu policy

Kenagy said Stormont's COVID vaccine policy will leave room for valid religious and medical exemptions. He said the policy is consistent with Stormont's requirement that workers receive an influenza vaccine each flu season.

"The policy that we implemented and communicated today is very consistent and nearly identical to that," Kenagy said. "It's modified to account for the two-shot regimen and the timing between shots and that kind of thing with COVID. We believe that taking this step is consistent with our emphasis on patient safety, on team members' safety."

According to Kenagy, more than 85% of Stormont employees are already fully inoculated against the virus, so the new mandate is about getting the final 15% across the vaccine finish line.

"It is an incredibly important time to be able to have a viable vaccine," Kenagy said. "What we've seen in our community is the effect of the delta variant — its ease of transmissibility, the numbers going up, the number of younger patients and sicker patients."

More:How many kids are vaccinated in Kansas? Here's a county COVID-19 breakdown for eligible children.

He added Stormont continues to accept patients from other areas of the country where hospital beds are full and said on Wednesday night Stormont admitted its first patient from Tennessee.

"We're used to getting requests from Oklahoma, Missouri, Colorado, Nebraska but have never had one from Tennessee," he said.

Kenagy said Stormont is working to address employees' concerns about the new vaccine requirement, and he expects there may be a few people who quit because of it.

"We're at a time where our workforce is smaller than we'd like it to be — and when I say 'we' I mean health care in general," Kenagy said. "So it is a common concern; we have that concern. We're going to do our best to provide information to those who have so far been reluctant to get the vaccine. We're hopeful they'll agree to do so."

Stormont Vail Health has 145 registered nurse vacancies

A hospital spokesperson told The Topeka Capital-Journal Wednesday that Stormont has 145 registered nurse vacancies across its health system, representing a nearly 15% vacancy rate for that position.

"This is higher than what we have seen in the past," said Darlene Stone, Stormont's senior vice president and chief experience officer. "The demand for nurses is a nationwide issue with the pandemic."

Kenagy said Stormont's staffing shortage is an "hour-by-hour situation." There are times, he said, when they have enough staff to meet demand and other times when they must divert incoming patients to other facilities.

"It is an absolute dilemma we face," Kenagy said, "and we have opted on the side of patient safety, of team member safety and community safety."