Less than 1% of Stormont Vail's staff members voluntarily left because of COVID-19 vaccine deadline

Jason Tidd
Topeka Capital-Journal
File photo: A pink sign signifying airborne precautions need to be taken before entering mark the rooms where COVID-19 patients are held within the intensive care unit at Stormont Vail Health, 1500 S.W. 10th Ave. The hospital's vaccine mandate for staff had a deadline of Oct. 31.

Less than 1% of staff at Topeka's largest hospital have voluntarily left their jobs because of a COVID-19 vaccine mandate and zero have been fired after the Oct. 31 deadline passed. 

Stormont Vail Health had a 98.5% vaccination rate among team members as of Friday, spokesperson MollyPatt Horan said in an email.

"This reflects a great commitment to the community’s health on behalf of our workforce that they take patient safety seriously and are committed to the work we do," Horan said. "We are extremely proud of our team members for recognizing that getting the COVID-19 vaccine is not only important for their health, but protects all of our patients and our community."

Stormont Vail CEO Robert Kenagy announced the requirement on Sept. 2 — one week before President Joe Biden promised a federal mandate for health care workers. The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services unveiled that regulation last week.

"Less than 1% of team members voluntarily left the organization between September and now due to the requirement," Horan said, without specifying the number.

Stormont Vail employees nearly 5,000 employees at the hospital and 35 other locations, according to its Linked-In page.

Unvaccinated staffers without religious or medical exemptions now face "an administrative review process," Horan said. Nobody has been terminated so far because of noncompliance with the COVID-19 vaccine requirement.

Two weeks after announcing the requirement, Kenagy said that ongoing staffing shortages at the health system are not because of the vaccine requirement. Rather, he said, "the vast majority of our shortages are the result of nursing staff leaving for travel nursing positions, retirements and illness of team members or family members."

State officials have allocated $50 million in federal COVID-19 aid to nurse bonuses designed to retain workers amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Stormont Vail appears to have the earliest deadline of major Kansas health care providers with COVID-19 vaccination requirements.

More:St. Francis hospital in Topeka adopts vaccine requirement; Stormont Vail's mandate not to blame for shortage

The University of Kansas Health System's COVID-19 vaccine requirement has a Dec. 1 deadline. That includes the St. Francis campus in Topeka, which had just over 80% of staff vaccinated as of Friday.

In Lawrence, LMH Health has a Nov. 21 deadline. Ascension Via Christi, which operates several facilities in Kansas, has a Nov. 12 deadline.

"Since the start of the pandemic, we have taken many measures to keep our patients, families and team members safe while in our facilities across northeast Kansas," Horan said. "These measures include enhanced infection control measures, wearing face masks and personal protective equipment, door screening processes and more.

"However, getting vaccinated still remains the best tool in preventing serious illness, hospitalization and stopping the spread of COVID-19. Stormont Vail continues to be a leader in the fight against the pandemic and we continue to lead by example on the effectiveness of vaccines in our effort to protect the health of our communities."

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

Jason Tidd is a statehouse reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached by email at jtidd@gannett.com.