Op-Ed: Why Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare mandates vaccines

Note: The following is an Op-Ed column from Michael Ugwueke, president and CEO of Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare regarding vaccine mandates. The item is provided from Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare and reprinted here. Methodist Olive Branch Hospital is part of the Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare system and comes under the vaccine mandate.   

The greatest strength of the Mid-South is our caring for and sense of responsibility toward one another. Because we have banded together and supported each other throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, for every point where this region felt down, we were never out.

But this system of mutual support only works when we read the signs of each moment, and recognize when the time has come to band together for the collective good.

That time is now.

Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare has recently joined more than 120 other medical networks across the United States in requiring our employees, both in and outside of patient-facing roles, to be vaccinated against COVID-19. We made this decision because it is impossible not to take decisive steps to protect one another and save lives.

Michael Ugwueke, president and CEO of Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare (Courtesy photo)

Nearly a year ago, I joined other chief executives in writing to a community that was already pandemic-weary and uncertain about the future. At the time, masks, social distancing and handwashing were the greatest weapons we had in the fight against COVID-19. For all their limitations, our shared efforts, combined with the heroic measures of our healthcare teams, did make a dent in the virus’s progress. As a proud example, over the summer of 2020, we slashed new cases by half and hospitalizations by close to 40 percent in the state of Tennessee.

We have since returned to strained emergency departments, overburdened inpatient units, and the fresh prospect of delayed or canceled procedures to relieve pressures on our facilities. For our dedicated staff, the exhaustion that hung over 2020 has been replaced by much darker clouds, with too many risking physical and emotional burnout.

The story this time is different. It is true that we have seen the emergence of a new and particularly dangerous Delta variant, which forms the majority of more than 500 new cases a day emerging in Shelby County and has driven increases of 132 percent in DeSoto County in just two weeks. At Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, two children have tragically died from its complications.

But the main difference between then and now is that our arsenal of tools is much stronger. We have not just one, but three effective vaccines that have been authorized by the FDA – all demonstrated to prevent serious illness and death.

Yet far too many people are opting out of getting this life saving vaccine. And our health care workers are hearing far too many stories of patients both expressing regret over not being vaccinated or requesting a vaccine when it is too late to help them.

Our decision to issue a vaccine mandate was spurred by the urgency of the current situation around the pandemic. But the bottom line is, we can’t go it alone. In order for everyone in the Mid-South to have a much different conversation about the pandemic come next year, thousands of businesses and organizations must take urgent and decisive action. Each hour and day that we delay an effective response gives the virus a chance to spread, potentially evolve into new variants, and claim the lives of our neighbors and loved ones of all ages.

I equally urge community partners, and friends at hospital networks across Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas to join my peers at Memphis VA Medical Center, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and University of Mississippi Medical Center in taking this crucial step. Beyond vaccine policies to protect our workers and patients, we must collectively combat harmful disinformation about the vaccine that is contributing to hesitancy, and assist organizations within the community to address health access disparities and make COVID-19 vaccines more widely available.

The spirit of the Mid-South is community and responsibility. Stopping the spread of COVID-19 is within grasp, if only we reach for it.

Michael Ugwueke

President and Chief Executive Officer

Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare

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