Jackson Health system requires workers, vendors to be vaccinated, as Florida COVID hospitalizations hit new high

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Miami’s Jackson Health, one of the largest public health systems in the country, announced it will require all employees and onsite vendors to be vaccinated or adhere to regular testing and other restrictions.

Jackson’s announcement comes as the hospital has seen a 385% increase in COVID patients in a month.

Carlos Migoya, CEO of Jackson Health, said 60% of the health system’s 13,000 plus employees are vaccinated. “Given the dire situation we are facing, this is way too low.”

The COVID surge continues to hit Florida’s hospitals hard, and the state reported new record-breaking hospital admissions for the virus on Thursday.

As of mid-day, 12,888 people in the state had been admitted to a hospital for COVID, even more than the 12,408 admissions that had been an all-time high a day earlier. The new COVID admissions record comes as 255 of 261 hospitals in the state reported COVID admissions to US Health and Human Services, which provides the information on its website.

Critically ill COVID patients now fill 2,577 intensive care beds in Florida’s hospitals, occupying about 89% of available beds, with all 261 hospitals reporting.

On Thursday, 20,113 new COVID cases were reported in Florida, one of the highest daily counts since the start of the pandemic along with another 80 new deaths from the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In South Broward, Memorial Healthcare System reports its hospitals are seeing an unprecedented surge and the system now has the most overall patients it has ever admitted for overnight stays — more than 1,600. With more COVID patients arriving each day, Memorial has reached out to federal officials for more oxygen and state officials for additional ventilators.

Migoya said Jackson is requiring its employees to get vaccinated because physicians see that vaccines work: 100% of its COVID patients are either unvaccinated, or vaccinated and immunosuppressed.

The health system will give employees who get vaccinated by Sept. 30 a $150 one-time bonus. “We cannot afford to spread this disease in the community and certainly at Jackson,” he said. Those who chose not to get vaccinated must wear masks at all times and will not be able to eat or drink within the hospital.

“These vaccines are very effective in decreasing the severity of disease, hospitalizations and death,” Dr. Peter Paige, an emergency medicine physician with Jackson Health System, said during a news briefing held by Miami-Dade County. “As an emergency physician, I implore those who are not vaccinated to get vaccinated.”

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava announced Miami-Dade County also will require its employees to be vaccinated or undergo weekly COVID testing. “This policy will help ensure we are doing our part to ensure a safe workplace,” the mayor said.

Cava noted that of the 1,500 COVID patients in Miami-Dade hospitals, 9 in 10 are unvaccinated.

“At the local level, we need to do everything we can, and that means doubling down on key ways we can stop the spread,” she said.

In Fort Lauderdale, Holy Cross Health was the first hospital in South Florida to require employee vaccination. The hospital, a member of Trinity Health, is giving workers until Sept. 21 to get vaccinated or provide a medical or religious exemption.

With COVID admissions continuing and patients coming to hospitals for emergency care, the Florida Hospital Association expects 60% of hospitals in the state to face a “critical staffing shortage” in the next seven days.

Migoya said his health system already is seeing a strain on staff and struggling to keep up, hiring temporary workers and paying employees incentives. While requiring the vaccines could risk losing staff, Migoya said he would rather do that than risk lives.

“Current hospitalizations and the growth rate continue to be extremely troubling,” Mary C. Mayhew, president and CEO of the Florida Hospital Association, said in a statement.

As the number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 in Florida continues to spike, the state’s hospital systems started making plans to suspend elective procedures. Nurses and physicians report they are working seven days a week as emergency rooms continue to see patients arrive with COVID symptoms.

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Memorial Healthcare System announced Wednesday its five South Broward adult hospitals will suspend elective medical procedures starting Aug. 9 “to conserve critical resources for the care of COVID-19 patients.” Memorial’s hospitals will continue to treat patients who need emergency care for non-COVID reasons, and the rehabilitation and cancer centers remain open.

Cleveland Clinic Florida’s Weston hospital has postponed some elective procedures, as has Broward Health North.

In Palm Beach County, Baptist’s Boca Raton Regional Hospital, Bethesda East and Bethesda West hospitals are postponing elective surgeries on an individual basis.

During a news briefing in Tampa on Thursday, Tampa General Hospital CEO John Couris said even with COVID admissions, anyone who is sick should go to a hospital.

“Please do not delay care if you are out in the community,” Couris said “Hospitals are open and they are taking care of people who need health care.”

Sun Sentinel health reporter CIndy Goodman can be reached at cgoodman@sunsentinel.com.

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