St. John’s Health is putting its money where its mouth is.
The hospital’s Board of Trustees convened for a special meeting Friday afternoon to discuss creating a “COVID safety” bonus program that rewards employees who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 or do so before May 31.
“It’s really about a commitment to safety for our employees, safety for our patients,” human resources director Thom Kinney told the board.
Including premeeting chit-chat, the whole thing took about 15 minutes because the board strongly supported the idea, passing it unanimously. St. John’s will now dedicate up to $517,000 to the bonus program, giving each vaccinated full-time employee $600, with part-time employees receiving a prorated bonus.
“We’d like to make this big push before Memorial Day,” Chief Communications Officer Karen Connelly told the Jackson Hole Daily.
The impetus is setting an example that the community should strive for as high a level of protection from COVID-19 as possible before summer, when expected high levels of tourism may bring the coronavirus to Jackson. Vaccination will also help now, since Teton County has the second-highest rate of infection in the state, according to a recent update from Medical Director of COVID-19 Dr. Paul Beaupre, who also said the hospital’s number of COVID-19 patients hovers between two and four.
As it stands, the hospital’s vaccination rate is 74%, CEO Will Wagnon told the board. That’s well above the community’s overall rate, which Wyoming Department of Health data puts at about 40%.
If possible, the hospital would like its internal rate to be 100%, Kinney told the board, but they feel the incentive program is the right method rather than mandating vaccination. Attorney Tom Lubnow told the board that requiring employees to be vaccinated could be legal once the shots receive full approval from the Food and Drug Administration.
At Friday’s community update, Beaupre indicated the hospital could mandate vaccination for its employees once that happens. Whether employers should do so and if countries or businesses should require proof of vaccination are fierce topics of debate across the globe.
For St. John’s, Lubnow told the board an incentive program could achieve the desired effect, at least for now.
“Because you’re allowing a choice for your employees, because it’s being done as part of a pandemic response plan, which gives you levels of immunity, it’s appropriate to incentivize,” he said.