HealthPartners sent an email to staff on Tuesday explaining that if they do not get the COVID-19 vaccine this fall, they'll lose their job.
The provider and health insurance company announced the vaccine requirement on Aug. 5, when nearly 75% of all staff, including 98% of clinicians, were vaccinated against COVD-19. However, HealthPartners didn't share details of the consequences if someone doesn't get vaccinated by the Oct. 30 deadline.
That changed Tuesday when Andrea M. Walsh, the president and CEO of HealthPartners, sent an email to staff, which was forwarded to Bring Me The News, "specifying the consequences" for people who don't get the vaccine by the end of the month.
"With our COVID-19 vaccine deadline a month away, and in light of the new Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) mandate that requires COVID-19 vaccination for employees of participating organizations, today we’re sharing two important updates about our colleague vaccination program," Walsh said in the email.
Those who do not get the COVID vaccine by Oct. 30 will begin an unpaid 30-day leave of absence, Walsh said. Anyone who is placed on leave can return to work if they get vaccinated or have an exemption, but at the end of the 30-day period, "colleagues who have not met the requirement will be deemed to have resigned."
Walsh says it is the company's hope "that all colleagues will participate in the program by the deadline."
In addition to specifying the consequences of not getting vaccinated, HealthPartners said it is offering "additional support" for those whose vaccination status is unknown, including resources to help address their questions and concerns about the vaccine.
The majority of HealthPartners employees have already gotten the vaccine, with Walsh noting that now, nearly 83% of all staff, including nearly 99% of clinicians, are either fully or partially vaccinated.
Walsh also thanked colleagues who received a medical or religious exemption for the vaccine.
Walsh concluded the email by saying:
"Our colleague vaccination program and your participation is an important step in keeping our patients, members and each other protected against the serious harms of COVID-19 and influenza. It takes each and every one of us to keep our communities safe, and you have stepped up in ways big and small to help us keep this commitment. Thank you for your continued partnership and dedication to the health of our members, patients and each other.
HealthPartners, which is based in Bloomington, is the "largest consumer-governed, nonprofit health care organization in the nation," according to its website. It has more than 300 care locations in Minnesota and western Wisconsin and employs more than 26,000 people, including more than 1,800 physicians.
Details on the HealthPartners vaccine requirement come as a handful of the health care workers in Minnesota have filed a federal lawsuit over such requirements.
The lawsuit, which about 190 health care workers filed on Monday in federal court against federal health officials and about 20 health care providers, including HealthPartners hospitals, says the lack of alternatives to getting vaccinated infringes on employees' rights.
The Minnesota Medical Association President Randy Rice told MPR News a loud minority is opposing vaccines, noting most in the medical community have already gotten the COVID vaccine.
The American Medical Association, which encourages vaccines mandates to defeat the pandemic, in June released a survey that found 96% of physicians in the U.S. had already been fully vaccinated for COVID-19, and 45% of those who hadn't did plan to get it, a news release said.