Saint Luke's Health System CEO says COVID-19 vaccine 'a condition of employment'

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Posted at 1:26 PM, Aug 30, 2021

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — All employees of Saint Luke's Health System must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 30, the medical system announced Monday. Those who refuse will lose their jobs, according to CEO Dr. Melinda Estes.

"The vaccine is a condition of employment," Estes told KSHB 41 News. "And, you know, we don't want to lose any of our staff because we value all of them. But we do recognize that there will be people who may choose to leave rather than to be vaccinated."

Estes estimated 35% of the health system's total workforce, or more than 4,000 employees, have not been vaccinated yet.

The rule applies to all employees, licensed independent medical staff members, allied health professionals, contracted personnel, student affiliates and hospital volunteers.

Estes, also president of the health system, said that a "confluence of circumstances" led to the decision.

"It's the stress and strain on the hospitals, not only in Kansas City, but in Kansas, in Missouri," she said. "And in fact, the entire Midwest region, the stress and strain on our employees and our frontline staff, in particular, because this has been a long haul caring for very sick patients."

A medical or religious exemption can be requested and will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Those who are approved to be exempt will undergo weekly testing.

Some health care system staff and patients who spoke to KSHB 41 News outside of Saint Luke's Hospital in Kansas City were on board with the new mandate.

“I would think it would be something that isn’t even in question," said Mark Matthews, who receives care there. "So get with the program.”

Saint Luke's cited rising COVID-19 cases, intensive-care unit bed shortages, staff shortages, Federal Drug Administration approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and an increase in pediatric cases.

“Saint Luke’s mission and commitment to Kansas City has been clear for 139 years,” Estes said in a news release. “Our job is to protect and care for the health of our patients. COVID-19 is spreading rapidly and is causing devastating loss. As healthcare professionals, the most important action each of us can take to end this pandemic is to get vaccinated. As a respected and trusted health care leader, it is incumbent upon us as an organization to ensure we are doing everything in our power to protect the health of our community, our patients, and our staff. This policy aligns our commitment, mission, and values with tangible action.”

Because of the surge in COVID-19 cases, Estes said, some patients are being housed in "alternative-care areas."

As of Monday, the health system had more than 450 openings between Kansas and Missouri sites.

Truman Medical Centers/University Health and Liberty Hospital already require employees to be vaccinated.