Sarasota Memorial to Require Vaccines For Workers

Todays News

Sarasota Memorial Health Care System is requiring its workforce to be fully vaccinated. Under the new policy, all workers, medical staff and volunteers must have been administered a full dosage of vaccine by Jan. 4, whether that’s the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine or the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

The decision comes despite Florida just passing a law in special session that prohibits vaccine mandates. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the legislation in Brandon on Friday, but a federal executive order by President Joe Biden impacting all health care institutions remains in effect. Hospital officials said they can’t wait for legal challenges to resolve and risk coverage health care participation.

“We are aware the federal mandate is facing several legal challenges, and the Florida Legislature has passed laws this week to counter the requirements. We are following these actions closely,” wrote David Verinder, Sarasota Memorial CEO, in a staff memo. “But we must start implementing the federal mandate now to meet the required deadlines and ensure our continued participation in Medicare and Medicaid. The majority of our patients — 62% — depend on Medicare/Medicaid, so jeopardizing our participation in these programs would disrupt care for tens of thousands of community members.”

Hospital officials say 82% of its 7,800-person workforce has already been vaccinated. That’s higher than the population at large. Steve Huard, spokesman for the Sarasota County Department of Health, reported 310,362 Sarasota residents, 73%, have been vaccinated for COVID-19 as of Friday.

But the stats also show 18% of the hospital’s employees now face potential job loss if they don’t receive the vaccine or secure a medical or religious exemption. Notably, individuals who have developed natural immunity because they contracted and survived COVID-19 still face the federal mandate.

Even those who secure exemptions, under the current federal rules, must undergo testing twice a week at external facilities, and must also wear masks at work and follow a set of strict restrictions in dining areas in SMH facilities.

Verinder, for his part, stressed those working in the health care field should understand well the need to become vaccinated.

“Most importantly, I encourage staff to get vaccinated to protect themselves, their family, patients and colleagues,” he wrote. “At this point, more than 7.5 billion COVID vaccine shots have been given around the world, including about 445 million in the U.S. There is overwhelming evidence the vaccine is very safe and effective.

“During the recent surge, 86% of COVID patients hospitalized at SMH from mid-July through September were unvaccinated. No one knows better than our team that the virus can have a severe and often deadly impact on patients. We support efforts that will prevent future hospitalizations and deaths, and ease the enormous strain on the health system and staff. And we are incredibly grateful to the thousands of staff who have already gotten vaccinated.”

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