Deadline looms for Delaware vax mandates from ChristianaCare, Gov. Carney

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Kaylin Satterfield, a Christiana Care health aide, gets the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday from nurse manager Elizabeth Intermoia at Wilmington Hospital. (Courtesy of ChristianaCare)

Kaylin Satterfield, a Christiana Care health aide, gets the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday from nurse manager Elizabeth Intermoia at Wilmington Hospital. (Courtesy of ChristianaCare)

The clock is ticking on nurses, doctors, patient escorts, and other employees of Delaware’s largest health care system, ChristianaCare.

Father Time is also looming over those who work in nursing homes and other health care facilities, as well as all state workers.

That’s because ChristianaCare has set a Tuesday deadline for its staff to get at least one vaccination shot for COVID-19. Their penalty for not getting inoculated: termination.

‘We want folks to roll up their sleeves’

ChristianaCare, whose mandate affects 14,000 employees and contractors, had said last month when the requirement was announced that about 70% were already in compliance — meaning that about 4,000 were not.

The mandate triggered two vocal protests outside Christiana Hospital, the state’s largest, with both employees and non-employees decrying the order as unnecessary and oppressive.

Dr. Neil Jasani, ChristianaCare’s chief people officer, would not say late last week how many staffers still had not gotten a shot — but promised to provide an accounting in the near future. The company’s deadline to be fully inoculated is Oct. 28.

“Things are going well,’’ Jasani told WHYY News, noting that vaccination events and employee town halls are continuing in ChristianaCare facilities such as Wilmington Hospital on a regular basis. He said shift nurses have even been authorized to administer shots to staffers during their shifts.

“There is no question we’ve moved the needle on getting more folks vaccinated,’’ Jasani said. “I think when we look at the end of this journey that we will have done some really, really great work. You know, the vaccination events are packed. We’ve actually had to extend the hours because so many of the caregivers are coming.”

Asked about the sentiment by some nurses and other hospital staffers that they were lauded as heroes early in the pandemic but now are being targeted for firing, Jasani said the focus is simply on protecting patients, staff, and visitors.

“It was great to get those well-wishing cards from the school kids and the food that was brought in, the banging of the pots and everything,’’ Jasani said. “But really what we want folks to do is roll up their sleeves and get the vaccine, because that’s how you’re going to help us.”

Christopher Otto, executive director of the Delaware Nurses Association, has been urging the state’s 25,000 licensed nurses to get vaccinated and continues to advocate for better participation.

“This is probably the most heavily researched vaccine in history,’’ Otto told WHYY. “We have the answers that our nurses are seeking, and we must combat the volume of misinformation that is flowing in the community, whether it be on social media, regular media, in person. And so let’s have conversations about that.”

Otto acknowledged “there is a community’’ among nurses “that are still vaccine hesitate. But I think that is growing smaller.”

Carney vax or test mandate takes effect Sept. 30

Gov. John Carney has set a deadline of Sept. 30 for state workers and those at healthcare facilities to get their first shot.

The governor’s hammer isn’t as heavy as ChristianaCare’s, though.

Carney is giving state employees and healthcare workers the option of weekly testing. Though with the virus in the midst of a two-month surge, staffers in nursing homes, where the most vulnerable population of patients live, currently must get tested twice a week. Carney’s order doesn’t pertain to teachers or other school staffers because they work for individual districts.

ChristianaCare nurse Jennine Gordon had participated in a protest against the vaccine mandate in August. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Upwards of 50,000 people are targeted by the mandates as Delaware officials struggle to tamp down the recent escalation of cases and hospitalizations by pushing people to get the shots in their arms, even as life is returning to normal for many residents.

Data released Friday shows that the seven-day average of new daily cases is 475 and that 251 patients are hospitalized, with 37 in critical condition. Both the case and hospitalization figures are seven-month highs and represent a consistent sharp escalation from early June, when the average number of new daily cases hovered around 20 and as few as 14 patients were hospitalized. Deaths have leveled off, averaging about one a day in recent weeks.

Currently, 77.3% of Delaware adults are at least partially vaccinated, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Barely half of minors ages 12 to 17, and younger adults ages 18 to 34 have taken the plunge, state records show.

‘We want to help dispel myths’ of vaccine resisters

Carney spokesman Jonathan Starkey said the administration doesn’t yet have figures about how the push to vaccinate state workers and staffers in health care settings is going.

Cheryl Heiks, who heads the Delaware Health Care Facilities Association, the trade group for Delaware’s nursing homes and assisted living facilities, said they have about 5,000 beds and upwards of 9,000 employees.

Those long-term care facilities have accounted for 44% of Delaware’s 1,913 coronavirus-related deaths.

Heiks said her members have been under a state testing order since June 2020 — 15 months ago. So until the federal mandate takes effect, anyone who doesn’t want to get vaccinated knows they can protect themselves, colleagues and patients with a simple swab at work.

She estimated about 70% are already vaccinated and, like ChristianaCare’s Jasini, thinks the number will keep growing.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that there’s been enough time in place and people have been able to see the value of the vaccine,’’ Heiks said. “But again, I can’t speak for other individuals who may feel differently.”

“We want to continue to listen to everybody to help dispel myths, to provide the facts about the value of vaccines. And we believe very strongly that we have to protect the residents and the staff during this particular pandemic and anything else that might be coming our way. But this is an unprecedented situation.”

A ChristianaCare nurse fills a syringe with the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday at Wilmington Hospital during a vax clinic for employees. (Courtesy of ChristianaCare)

‘Our patience is wearing thin’

In addition to the ChristianaCare and state mandates, under a recent order from President Biden, employees at healthcare facilities such as hospitals, nursing homes, and dialysis and surgery centers will soon be required to be vaccinated if the facilities want to participate in the Medicare and Medicaid programs. The deadline for compliance has not yet been announced.

“There is no question that staff, across any health care setting, who remain unvaccinated pose both direct and indirect threats to patient safety and population health,’’ U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said this month. “Ensuring safety and access to all patients, regardless of their entry point into the health care system, is essential.”

Speaking from the White House on Sept. 9, Biden pointed the finger at unvaccinated Americans.

“We’ve been patient,’’ said the president, who often returns to his Delaware homes in Greenville and near Rehoboth Beach on weekends. “But our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us.”

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