Making life harder for hospitals not good for business

Wisconsin has 126 hospitals generally spread around the state, serving communities large and small and contributing close to $50 billion per year to the economy while treating patients of all ages and conditions — usually with few questions asked when a sick person shows up at the emergency room door.

So why are some policymakers choosing to make it more difficult for those hospitals to run their own businesses at a time when many are swamped with COVID-19 patients?

Some state legislators have made headlines of late by urging vaccine resistance in general or by suggesting that health care employees should push back against hospitals and health systems that are making vaccination a condition of employment.

Many people understand, at least from a philosophical perspective, why vaccine opponents value individual choice over government fiat when it comes to health decisions. It’s why some pushed back in the past against mask mandates or arbitrary capacity requirements.

This is different. It’s not a government order. This is hospitals and health systems deciding that for the good of patients and employees alike, they are going to require all workers to be vaccinated or submit to regular COVID testing.

It’s legal to do so within standard parameters, according to federal law. It’s smart business practice for hospitals that can’t afford to expose non-COVID patients with compromised immune systems to a virus that might kill them. It’s also a matter of respecting already vaccinated employees (about 90% of hospital workers in Wisconsin) who don’t want to work shoulder-to-shoulder with non-vaccinated colleagues. And it’s also a case of having the capacity to treat all types of patients, emergency and elective, at a time when COVID numbers are once again rising.

A month ago, there were a total of 75 people being treated for COVID in Wisconsin hospitals. Today, it’s nearly 600 and rising as the Delta variant zeroes in on the unvaccinated, including young people and children. Overall cases continue to spike as well.

Public opinion polls show that many people who aren’t already vaccinated against COVID-19 plan to remain unvaccinated. Some of those same polls, however, indicate a majority believe it’s proper for health care employers to require vaccination.

A July poll by Politico and the Harvard School of Public Health showed roughly a 50-50 split on general employer vaccination mandates. However, the same poll showed two-thirds support for health care worker vaccination requirements. That included 59% of respondents who identified themselves as Republicans.

Will Wisconsin hospitals run out of beds tomorrow or even next week? No, but having learned hard lessons during the 2020 COVID surge, those hospitals are trying to prepare for handling the latest wave with staffs that are ready to meet the challenges. Here are examples of recent statements:

  • “There is overwhelming scientific evidence that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective,” Dr. John Raymond Sr., a physician and president and CEO of the Medical College of Wisconsin, said. “Health care organizations, especially academic medical centers, need to lead the way by setting an example of best public health practices, and social responsibility for our stakeholders, vulnerable communities, and our region.”
  • “Our ultimate duty is to protect the health and safety of our team members, patients, and communities,” said Advocate Aurora President and CEO Jim Skogsbergh. “The data is overwhelming. This vaccine is safe, and it’s highly effective in preventing infection and even more so, serious illness and death.”
  • “Scientific data shows us the current COVID-19 vaccines are not only safe but effective in protecting individuals from contracting COVID-19 or becoming hospitalized with the virus,” said Dr. Ashok Rai of Prevea Health. “(There is) an overwhelming majority of positive cases affecting unvaccinated individuals. As a trusted source of health care in Wisconsin, it is critical we take this next step to protect our patients, staff, and communities.”

Are all those hospital leaders and many more in Wisconsin wrong? That’s not likely, and they deserve the right to make management decisions based on business practices and medical science versus politics.

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