Intermountain Healthcare announced Wednesday it will require all of its caregivers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
The requirement is meant "to comply with federal vaccination requirements announced by President (Joe) Biden" on Sept. 9, system officials said.
Dr. Mark Briesacher, chief physician executive, noted it's been 20 months since the first COVID-19 patient was admitted to Intermountain Medical Center. Since then, he said it's been "remarkable" to watch the caregivers at the system respond to the pandemic.
"I can't thank the nurses and physicians, and all of our health care teams and everyone who supports them at Intermountain enough for what they've done. It's been truly remarkable," Briesacher said during a news conference.
After reviewing the rules from the Biden administration, he said it "became clear that we need to comply with these rules, because this is about caring for people."
Intermountain Healthcare leaders received guidance from the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force, which told them the key point of the new rules is that within facilities that work within a federal contract, everyone who works there needs to be vaccinated.
Briesacher said that's why the system decided to take a "one Intermountain" approach to it.
The system cares for patients with different forms of federal insurance, "and it really comes down to that bottom line of we're going to be there for people when they need us." Four out of every 10 of the system's patients have federal Medicare or Medicaid support, he added.
Intermountain has come up with an approach focused on "listening," answering questions, and helping people through the decision-making process, according to Briesacher.
Employees can submit medical and religious exemptions "and we're going to work through those very carefully, thoughtfully, with an open mind, in a generous way to understand those concerns and honor those exemptions," Briesacher said.
He called the mandate "just the next thing for us to work on together."
Intermountain Healthcare already requires it employees to receive vaccines for hepatitis, whooping cough, the annual flu, measles, mumps and rubella.
"What these all have in common is that these are viruses and bacteria that are easily spread through a community if that community is vulnerable and not immune to them," Briesacher said.
Those who don't start the process to get vaccinated or request an exemption will be "separated" from the company, he said.
"As a health care organization, Intermountain requires immunizations because they protect us and others — patients, members, colleagues, families and communities — from illness and disease, like COVID-19. There is overwhelming evidence that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective," the newly released company policy states.
Intermountain said more than 75% of its caregivers are already fully vaccinated and up to 85% have received one dose.
"Vaccination efforts nationally, and specifically in the Intermountain West, have proven central to reducing the spread of the virus and saving lives," according to the policy.
More than 200 million people in America have been vaccinated against COVID-19, including 1.94 million in Utah who have received at least one dose, according to data from the Utah Department of Health.
Employees will have until Dec. 5 to file appropriate medical or religious exemptions, until Jan. 5 to receive their first dose of any available FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine, and until Feb. 9 to be fully vaccinated, according to the new mandate. Anyone who doesn't meet exception criteria will be placed on administrative leave — with "eventual separation from the company."
Intermountain Healthcare — headquartered in Utah with facilities in Idaho and Nevada — already mandates multiple vaccines for its caregivers, including annual flu shots and others. Wednesday's mandate includes all employees, including clinical and nonclinical roles, physicians, clinicians, volunteers, contract workers and students, at all Intermountain facilities in and outside of Utah, as well as remote workers.