The vast majority of University of Maryland Medical System staff members have come into compliance with the system’s COVID-19 vaccination requirements, the system reported Friday. According to the system’s vaccine mandate, employees were to be vaccinated or receive an exemption by Sept. 1.
Officials said 98% of the system’s clinical staff and 96% of its total staff have either received the COVID-19 vaccine or been given a religious or medical exemption. It is the first large medical system in the state to achieve this milestone, according to a news release from the system.
The hospital system, which employs over 29,000 people, allowed 300 medical exemptions, according to UMMS President and CEO Mohan Suntha. This number, which represents about 1.0% of UMMS employees, is similar to the number of employees who are exempted from the system’s other vaccine requirements, like the flu and measles vaccines.
Those who received exemptions from the vaccine are being tested weekly for the virus.
UMMS initially announced that it would be mandating COVID-19 vaccines for its workers in June. Several months later, in August, Gov. Larry Hogan announced that hospital and nursing home workers statewide would be required to get vaccinated by Sept. 1.
Since then, numerous hospitals around the state have reached high rates of compliance. LifeBridge Health, a medical system based in Baltimore that employs over 13,000 people, has a compliance rate of 94%, 5% of whom received exemptions. Luminis Health, a medical system local to Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties that employs 6,400 people, has reached 98% compliance.
Statewide, over 90% of hospital workers are vaccinated, according to Bob Atlas, president and CEO of the Maryland Hospital Association.
UMMS’ vaccination rate, Suntha said, “represents to me, once again, how our health care workforce understands our disproportionate responsibility to the health and well-being of our patients, our community and each other.”
Suntha attributes the high compliance rate to communication with employees, both on a systemwide level and with individuals, about the science behind the vaccines and why getting vaccinated is important not only for the individual, but for patients and the community at large.
“As we moved to the mandate associated with the COVID-19 vaccine, (we continued) constructive conversations, moving from large group communications to individual communications to make sure individuals understood the decision that was in front of them,” he said.
Noncompliant employees will be put on unpaid administrative leave starting next week, after which the medical system will continue trying to work with them to come into compliance with the mandate, either by being allowed a medical or religious exemption or by getting the vaccine. Suntha said that UMMS is also working to figure out if any of the employees who are not compliant may have already been vaccinated elsewhere but failed to correctly submit proof.
This process with continue throughout October; by the end of the month, any employees who still haven’t received a vaccine or an exemption will be considered to have voluntarily resigned.
The medical system is also beginning to roll out Pfizer booster shots for employees who are eligible for them according to the CDC, Suntha said, adding that the medical system will continue to monitor any news released about if and when booster shots are recommended for those who received the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines.
“The overwhelming message that I’ve gotten from our workforce is one of gratitude. Gratitude of ensuring that we are doing everything we can to protect our team members, our patients and our community,” Suntha said. “I am personally gratified.”