Memphis hospital systems fired, put hundreds on leave who refused COVID-19 vaccines

Corinne S Kennedy
Memphis Commercial Appeal
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Memphis-area hospitals have fired or put on unpaid leave hundreds of employees who have not complied with COVID-19 vaccine mandates. 

While the exact number of employees who have been terminated or placed on leave was not provided, hospital system representatives said there was not 100% compliance with the mandates. While compliance rates are high, local healthcare systems employ tens of thousands, so even a small percentage of employees being fired or put on leave translates to hundreds of people. 

Based on the number of employees in each system and the compliance rates provided by the systems, Memphis hospital systems have lost more than 650 employees who refused COVID-19 vaccines. The figure also includes employees who work at Baptist and Methodist hospitals in Mississippi and Arkansas. 

The vaccine mandates were put in place at the start of the delta variant surge, which has since abated. During the surge, hospitals saw record numbers of people hospitalized due to COVID-19.

Memphis-area hospitals have fired or put on unpaid leave hundreds of employees who have not complied with COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

As of Tuesday, Methodist spokesperson Rachel Powers-Doyle said 97% of the system's employees had been vaccinated. The Methodist system has more than 13,000 employees. 

"We are incredibly proud of the Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare Associates and providers who fulfilled their duty to deliver the safest possible care for the patients we are privileged to serve. Safety has been and will always be our first priority," she said in a statement. "We had hoped everyone would answer the call to get the vaccine. However, we respect their right to make a different decision."

Baptist spokesperson Kim Alexander said the Baptist system had a 98.6% compliance rate as of Monday. The system has more than 19,000 employees. 

She said employees who have not met the mandate are placed on leave "to give them every opportunity to meet our COVID-19 vaccine requirement. 

"We value all of our employees and do not wish to see any of them leave."

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Regional One Health said as of Oct. 31, 98.99% of the hospital's about 2,500 employees were vaccinated. Twenty-eight people who did not comply with the mandate have been placed on leave, a hospital spokesperson said. That included 20 clinical and eight non-clinical employees. 

A representative of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital said the hospital does not disclose information about employee terminations. 

"We join other hospitals and institutions nationwide that are requiring vaccination to effectively fight COVID-19. ALSAC and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital share a campus and are jointly implementing this policy for the safety and well-being of our patient families and staff," the hospital said. "The overwhelming majority of our employees are fully vaccinated and there will be no impact to the care we provide our patients and families, our life-saving research or our fundraising efforts."

Saint Francis Hospital-Memphis and Saint Francis Hospital-Bartlett do not have vaccine mandates in place, a hospital spokesperson said, but staff are strongly encouraged to get vaccinated. 

Corinne S Kennedy covers economic development, soccer and COVID-19's impact on hospitals for the Commercial Appeal. 

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