Data suggests most health care workers in the state have agreed to be vaccinated

By: - January 7, 2022 2:36 pm
A nurse treats a COVID patient in a hospital

Many New Hampshire hospitals and long-term care facilities have adopted their own vaccine mandates while the federal mandate is on hold pending the court challenge. (Win McNamee | Getty Images)

This story was updated Jan. 10 at 10:15 a.m. to correct a broken web link and update vaccination rates for hospital employees. 

Attorney General John Formella has signed onto three national lawsuits challenging federal vaccine mandates that warn “millions” of resignations would follow if employees were forced to choose between their job and a COVID-19 vaccine. 

Gov. Chris Sununu predicted the same in supporting Formella’s decision. 

“We have heard from long-term care facilities that are at risk of shutting down if this mandate goes through,” he said in November of the lawsuit challenging the mandate for health care workers. “This lawsuit can help stop another overreaching mandate in its tracks, avoiding a catastrophic workforce and care crisis for some of our state’s most vulnerable residents.”

By one indicator, that has not proven true. 

As of September, when President Joe Biden announced the mandates, 109 people have filed for state unemployment over a workplace vaccine mandate, according to Rich Lavers, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Employment Security. Of those, 70 worked in health care, an industry that reported about 91,600 workers in June, the most recent count available.

Most of those unemployment claims from health care workers – 64 – were denied after the department concluded their employers’ mandate was reasonable based on a history of state Supreme Court rulings addressing workplace requirements, Lavers said. 

Lavers cautioned, however, that the 109 unemployment claims likely do not reflect the total number of people who’ve left their jobs over a vaccine requirement because those who left the workforce altogether or quit and took other jobs are not eligible for unemployment.

But hospitals and long-term care facilities believe another metric bolsters their argument that most health care workers have agreed to be vaccinated: their high employee vaccination rates. Many have adopted their own vaccine mandates while the federal mandate is on hold pending the court challenge.

St. Joseph Hospital in Nashua, which mandated vaccination by Nov. 12 for its 1,500 workers, told the Bulletin in December that it was at 100 percent compliance. Genesis HealthCare’s said the same was true of its 2,500 employees.

Several other hospitals reported similarly high rates of compliance. Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health said 99 percent of its 13,000 workers met their vaccine mandate deadline; Wentworth-Douglas said 98.3 percent of its 3,000 workers had; and Concord Hospital reached 99.7 percent among its 4,500 workers.

The Catholic Medical Center is giving its workers until Jan. 14 to be vaccinated. Spokeswoman Lauren Collins Cline said so far, 99 percent of 2,700 to 2,800 workers were vaccinated or exempt. 

The New Hampshire Healthcare Association – which represents state private nursing homes, including the two biggest, one county nursing home, and a facility that cares for children with disabilities – reported approximately the same percentage of its workers are vaccinated. 

Hospitals and long-term care facilities represent about 77,000 of the nearly 91,600 health care workers in New Hampshire, according to Department of Employment Security data.

“We’re pleased that the vast majority of hospital staff throughout the state are vaccinated and compliant with the policies set by their individual hospitals, as it is a clear demonstration of their belief that it is critically important to protect the health and safety of New Hampshire’s most vulnerable patients,” said Steve Ahnen, president and CEO of the hospital association. 

“Obviously you’d like to be at 100 percent,” said Brendan Williams, president and CEO of the nursing home association. Every resignation – over mandates or the overwhelming burden of the work – hurts, he said.

“What I’ve heard said is that any amount of staff loss is pretty debilitating for facilities right now,” he said. “But with that said, many facilities have been willing to incur that because they felt it would be in the best interest of the residents. But I’m not knocking those who’ve imposed a mandate because in certain areas of the state where there is a lot of vaccine resistance, any job loss can be very damaging for residents.”

Sununu spokesman Brandon Pratt said in an email Friday that the governor’s concern about long-term care facilities closing if vaccines were mandated came directly from those facilities. Like Williams, Sununu said in a statement the state could not afford any health care worker to resign. Earlier Friday, Sununu announced a 17-member medical team from the federal Department of Defense had arrived at Elliot Hospital to help as COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to overwhelm staff. More than 500 people were hospitalized due to COVID-19 Friday, 359 with an active infection and 140 recovering from COVID-19 and too sick to be discharged.

“As hospitalizations remain high in New Hampshire and around the country, any loss of health care workers places an additional strain on the system,” he said. “To deny that the loss of 70 health care workers could not have a significant and dangerous effect ignores the potential impact on smaller, rural health care settings.”

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Annmarie Timmins
Annmarie Timmins

Senior reporter Annmarie Timmins is a New Hampshire native who covered state government, courts, and social justice issues for the Concord Monitor for 25 years. During her time with the Monitor, she won a Nieman Fellowship to study journalism and mental health courts at Harvard for a year. She has taught journalism at the University of New Hampshire and writing at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications.