CARBONDALE -- Officials at Southern Illinois Healthcare announced on Wednesday that SIH will require COVID-19 vaccinations for all employees and those who work in SIH facilities as a condition of their employment.
That decision, they say, is consistent with long-standing practices requiring health care workers to be vaccinated against serious infectious diseases for the safety of patients as well as with action being taken by leading health care entities and organizations throughout the region and the country in order to keep our people and our communities safe.
The new policy was announced via a news release as well as a virtual news briefing.
"With low regional vaccination rates, the spread of the Delta variant and increases In community cases and hospitalizations, we've entered an even more daunting phase of the pandemic," said SIH President and CEO Rex Budde. "We made the decision to require vaccination after careful consideration of current trends -- including overwhelming evidence of COVID-19 vaccine safety and effectiveness -- and anticipation of full FDA approval."
According to the release, employees will be required to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 8.
This policy affects all SIH employees, including remote workers, volunteers, students, non-employed medical staff, and others who provide services within our facilities.
"All of us at SIH are dedicated to improving the health and well-being of all people in every community we serve across Southern Illinois," Budde added. "Making the COVID-19 vaccine a requirement for our employees is the most important act of caring we can all do right now to protect them, their patients, and all our families that rely on safe, high-quality care right here close to home."
There will be a process for requesting a medical exemption based on CDC guidelines or a religious exemption.
"SIH recognizes and respects that some employees and patients have personal concerns and questions about the COVID-19 vaccine, so we will be listening to them and providing opportunities to learn more about the benefits of getting vaccinated so they are comfortable and confident in their roles safely serving patients," Budde said.
Those employees who have not yet been vaccinated for COVID-19 will be required to be tested weekly for the virus until the vaccine requirement is met.
That testing is slated to begin on Sept. 10.
SIH inpatient hospitals -- Memorial Hospital, Carbondale, Harrisburg Medical Center, Herrin Hospital, and St. Joseph Memorial Hospital, Murphysboro, as well as more than 30 outpatients and specialty practices facilities are included in the vaccine requirements.
"As the newest member of the SIH health system, Harrisburg Medical Center supports the critical importance of requiring COVID-19 vaccinations as a condition of employment," said Donald Hutson, Vice President and Administrator, Harrisburg Medical Center. "Discussions were underway to deliver a similar requirement for our employees before joining SIH, and we are now in the process of implementing this new protective measure so important to the health and safety of our communities."
With full vaccination of staff to help protect against the spread of COVID-19, SIH also believes it's critical to be as prepared as possible at a time when other viral illnesses with similar symptoms, such as influenza, will soon be in circulation.
"Current vaccines provide significant immunity against most of the variants to date and we have seen how increased vaccination rates are the most effective in preventing new COVID-19 cases in our communities," said Dr. Marci Moore-Connelly, SIH Chief Medical Officer. "Making COVID-19 vaccinations a requirement for our employees is vital to promoting the health and well-being of all the people in the communities we serve."
As an added precaution, SIH is also reviewing elective surgeries on a case-by-case basis and scaling back on procedures where an overnight or extended hospital stay is required.
The visitor policy has also been revised to allow only one visitor per patient per day.