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Arizona hospitals with Nov. 1 vaccine deadlines all report more than 95% compliance

The vast majority of employees at several major Arizona hospitals have met the deadline to be vaccinated for COVID-19. Tens of thousands of health care workers at Banner Health, Dignity Health, Valleywise Health and HonorHealth had until Nov. 1 to get the shot.

Banner Health, which is the largest private employer in Arizona with more than 50,000 workers, reports 97% compliance with  its vaccine requirement. Of Dignity Health's Phoenix-area employees, 98% met the deadline. 95% of HonorHealth's 13,000 team members complied. And Valleywise Health reports 98% of its 4,000 workers have been fully vaccinated. 

The deadline came as ICU beds in Arizona hospitals are  close to capacity, emergency rooms remain extremely busy, and hospitals  face staffing shortages.

Valleywise Health chief clinical officer Dr. Michael White last month told reporters his hospital already had dozens of nursing vacancies, but he said he felt the vaccine policy was critical for staff and patient safety.

“I expect that we will have some attrition of folks that have made the choice not to receive the vaccine," White said. "We’re trying everything in our power to make that number as small as possible."

Hospitals are now taking various approaches to bring unvaccinated employees into compliance. Valleywise Health reports it has begun terminating the 2% of its workers who chose not to be vaccinated.

Banner Health will put unvaccinated employees on unpaid leave. They will have until Nov. 30 to comply with the requirement or resign. A  statement from Banner Health CEO Peter Fine Tuesday said, "there were no interruptions in our delivery of care as a result of this requirement going into effect."

A statement from Dignity Health said, "employees who requested an exemption and were not approved will be able to continue working while we seek to fill their role, to ensure we can continue providing essential health care services for the community. These employees will be subject to additional masking and testing requirements, and will have every opportunity to remain with our organization if they choose to get vaccinated. Employees who chose not to submit vaccination records or request an exemption will not be scheduled to work until they complete the process."

Dignity Health has also extended the deadline to Feb. 1 for workers at its Prescott Yavapai Regional Medical Center over compliance concerns. 

A statement from HonorHealth on Tuesday said that hospital leadership will meet with unvaccinated employees "to address any barriers that are preventing them from becoming compliant." The statement said no HonorHealth employees have been terminated so far. 

With compliance rates at or above 95%, these hospitals' workers are vaccinated in much higher numbers than Arizona's general population. The  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report 64% of Arizona adults are fully vaccinated. Nationwide, evidence suggests employer vaccine  requirements are highly effective. Polling from the  Kaiser Family Foundation shows 19% of Americans who recently got vaccinated did so because of an employer requirement.  

Katherine Davis-Young is a senior field correspondent reporting on a variety of issues, including public health and climate change.