Monument Health to require COVID-19 vaccinations

Monument Health joins Avera Health and Sanford Health in requiring all physicians and caregivers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. The policy is in line with its flu vaccine requirement. Pioneer file photo

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RAPID CITY — Monument Health will require all physicians and caregivers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 beginning Dec. 1.

The announcement, made this morning, has Monument Health, western South Dakota’s only major medical network, joining with Avera Health and Sanford Health as well as more than 170 health care systems across the country requiring the vaccines.

“At Monument Health, our vision is to do the right thing. Every time,” according to a prepared statement issued from Monument Health. “With soaring COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations in western South Dakota, and with the Pfizer vaccine receiving full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Monument Health announced today that they will require Physicians and Caregivers to be vaccinated against COVID-19. It’s the right thing to do for our patients, families, communities and colleagues.”

The new policy is similar to the health care system’s flu vaccine requirement, and the network would consider exemption requests for caregivers with medical contraindications and sincerely held religious beliefs, according to the statement.

“We are grateful for all of the hard work and heroism our physicians and caregivers have shown throughout this pandemic. We look forward to the day when COVID-19 is no longer a threat to our care teams, our patients, and our communities,” said Brad Archer, M.D., chief medical officer for Monument Health. “The only way to get there is through vaccination.”

COVID-19 cases continue to climb in South Dakota. The increase in caseloads began in mid-July but began a steep climb in mid-August.

This week alone, the South Dakota Department of Health reported 2,088 new cases and nine new deaths caused by the virus. There are 7,364 active cases, a number not seen since December, and 214 people hospitalized because of the virus.

Dan Daly, a spokesman for Monument Health, said that all of the network’s intensive care unit beds are occupied and more rooms are being converted to ICU-level of care rooms.

This week in Lawrence County, there have been 92 new cases and one new death. In Meade County, there were 132 new cases and two new deaths reported. And in Butte County, 53 new cases were noted.

All three counties are within the top six South Dakota counties recording the most active cases.

Pennington County has 2,079 active cases; Minnehaha County has 1,189 active cases; Meade County has 535 active cases; Lawrence County has 432 active cases; Lincoln County has 335 active cases; and Butte County has 302 cases.

Health officials said the highly transmissible Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus has been spreading rapidly through western South Dakota. The number of new weekly West River COVID-19 cases nearly tripled in three weeks, and Monument Health is treating a record number of hospitalized patients.

“Every day we see the damage that this virus does to patients,” Archer added. “As health care professionals, we owe it to our communities to do whatever we can to contain and control COVID-19. And extensive studies show that the vaccines are safe and effective.”

According to health care officials, 82% of Monument Health patients hospitalized because of the virus are unvaccinated. Among those receiving ICU-level care, 91% are unvaccinated. Among patients on ventilators, 88% are unvaccinated.

According to the network, the key elements of the vaccination requirement program are:

• The program applies to all Monument Health physicians and caregivers regardless of whether they work in clinical or nonclinical jobs.

• Dec. 1 is also the requirement for physicians and caregivers to receive the influenza vaccine. Both vaccines can be safely administered at the same time.

• Those who want to file an exemption request must complete the declination process by Nov. 1.

• Those who are exempt from the vaccination program must wear face coverings and maintain social distance whenever possible, even if COVID-19 masking restrictions are eased in the future.            

• All physicians and caregivers must provide proof of vaccination.       

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has given full approval of the Pfizer vaccine. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are expected to gain approval soon. More than 380 million doses of the vaccines have been administered nationwide.

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