A North Carolina hospital system made good on its promise this week to fire staff members who refused to get a COVID-19 vaccine. 

About 175 employees within the Winston-Salem-based Novant Health system were dismissed due to non-compliance with the system’s vaccine mandate, The Washington Post reported Tuesday. Novant has a workforce of about 35,000. 

“We stand by our decision to make the vaccine mandatory as we have a responsibility to protect our patients, visitors and team members, regardless of where they are in our health system,” Novant Health said in a statement to the Post. “We couldn’t be prouder of our team members who made the choice to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and remain part of our team at Novant Health.”

Roughly 375 unvaccinated employees from Novant Health had been suspended recently and given five days to comply with the mandate. While 200 of those unvaccinated employees took the jab and kept their jobs, the others were terminated, the Post reported.

The 175 former employees amount to less than half a percent of Novant’s workforce, spread across 15 hospitals and more than 800 healthcare facilities. 

Novant said the measure was “essential to ensure the safety of our patients, team members and communities.”

“We agree with the North Carolina Healthcare Association, the Infectious Diseases Society of America, and many other health care systems in the region that a mandatory vaccine program is in the best interest of public health,” Novant said in a July news release announcing the mandate. Employees were required to be vaccinated by September 15.  

Earlier this month, President Biden announced a federal vaccine mandate that applied to certain companies, including healthcare facilities that accept Medicare and Medicaid funding. 

According to The New York Times, unlike Novant, many hospitals are not establishing sharp cutoffs for when they might eventually fire someone for refusing the vaccine. 

“UNC Health . . . said that it was confirming the status of about 900 employees. About 70 employees have left as a result of the system’s mandate, and the group has granted about 1,250 exemptions for medical or religious reasons,” the Times reported. “About 97 percent of its workforce have complied. Those who still need to be vaccinated or qualify for an exemption have until Nov. 2, providing what UNC described as ‘a last chance to remain employed.’”

Vaccine mandates for healthcare workers are nothing new. Across the nation, hospitals require proof of vaccination for measles, mumps, and rubella, to name a few. Some states mandate certain vaccines for healthcare workers by law. 

The mass termination of unvaccinated hospital system employees is among the largest of its kind to date, the Post reported. 

North Carolina is an at-will employment state, meaning that an employer is free to fire an employee for any reason or no reason at all.

Novant provided exceptions to its vaccine mandate. ​​Employees who have an approved vaccine exemption must undergo weekly COVID testing, wear N95 masks or other PPE, and wear eye protection while working on Novant Health premises, according to the hospital system. Novant Health hasn’t said how many exemptions were granted.

As of Wednesday, 69 percent of North Carolina adults have had at least one dose of the vaccine. There have been 16,444 total deaths in the state due to COVID and 3,010 are currently hospitalized, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

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