Joanne Kombert, a Hartford Healthcare nurse, injects a patient with COVID-19 vaccine. Yehyun Kim /

It has taken over 606,000 dead Americans, 8,279 dead state residents, and the passage of almost eight months since the release in the U.S. of the first COVID vaccines, to convince Connecticut’s hospitals that it might be a good idea to require their own workers get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Anthony J. Dennis

Connecticut’s hospitals have known since the beginning of this pandemic a year and a half ago that the world would eventually invent a vaccine and that they would thus inevitably face the issue of whether to require their own employees to get the shot. Would someone please ask our hospital leaders why they did not draft and institute such an employee requirement to protect patients’ lives long ago?

If some of Connecticut’s hospitals were truly as “best in class” as their TV commercials suggest, they would have been in the vanguard in addressing this continuing threat to the lives of patients. To get a sense of what a “best in class” response looks like in Connecticut, consider Masonicare, which is not a hospital but instead owns a nursing home and three assisted living facilities in the state. Masonicare introduced a mandatory COVID-19 employee vaccination requirement way back in December, 2020.  By contrast, the Connecticut Hospital Association, a voluntary trade group, took until June 24 to announce that a COVID vaccination requirement ought to be imposed by member hospitals. But the resolution carries no legal weight, and hospitals are free to do as they please.

To their credit, a few area hospitals have belatedly acted.  On July 8, Trinity Health’s Michigan-based parent company announced that it was instituting a COVID vaccination policy across its entire 22 state system, which includes its Connecticut-based employees.  Trinity Health’s policy is somewhat of a disappointment as it contains a series of “rolling deadlines” giving employees and contract workers until at least September  to comply.

Trailing behind, Hartford Healthcare, Yale Health and Bristol Health recently announced similar COVID-19 vaccination policy mandates which give their employees until the end of September to comply.  Why so late? Other area hospitals are worse.  Media relations staff at UConn Medical Center, Middlesex Health and Nuvance Health (owner of Danbury Hospital among other facilities) each informed me that they have no such COVID vaccination employee requirement at present.  It is clear that the majority of Connecticut’s hospitals still have not imposed a COVID vaccination mandate.  Furthermore, the few hospitals that have announced such a requirement will not achieve compliance until the end of September at the earliest.

Connecticut’s hospitals have collectively spent significant time, energy and money in what has been, at least in part, a massive misdirection campaign to convince you of their heroic, spare-no-expense efforts to combat COVID-19, while failing to mention or highlight that employees in their own facilities are not even required to get the COVID shot in the first place!

Certain hospitals have periodically mentioned how many of their own employees have been vaccinated but, with patients’ lives at stake, why is that number not at or near 100%?  After an all-out vaccination push by federal, state and local governments as well as hospital leaders, why for example does Hartford Healthcare’s and Bristol Health’s self-reported employee COVID vaccination rate still stand all these many months later at only 75%? This means that approximately one in four of the clinical staff treating you or going in and out of your hospital room remain unvaccinated.  This is unacceptable.  Hospitals require workers to get the flu shot every year.  Why not the COVID vaccine?  With the highly infectious Delta variant rapidly moving into our state, what are hospitals waiting for?

The reasons behind the lack of vaccination among hospital workers are not comforting.  Some of it is generational, with twenty and thirtysomethings not as afraid of possible harm or death due to COVID as people 65 and and above.  But if you only care about yourselves and not your patients, you don’t belong in the medical profession.

Hospital professionals have also expressed unwillingness to get the shot because the three approved vaccines have only received Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the FDA.  In other words, the three available COVID shots are “good enough for thee, but not for me.”  Mass General Brigham in Boston recently used this excuse in announcing that it will wait until the EUA designation comes off the three available COVID vaccines before requiring employees to get the shot.

Such a wait-and-see approach is medically unwarranted given the overall strong safety record of these three vaccines.  It also exacerbates the problem of vaccine hesitancy among the public.  If healthcare workers are leery about getting the shot, shouldn’t the rest of us be concerned?

Memo to preening hospital CEOs: Stop with the self-promoting commercials, self-aggrandizing TV interviews and slick magazine ads.  Lead by example. Tell your employees we appreciate them but if they don’t care enough about patients to get jabbed, they need to find another profession immediately.  I, along with many other residents with healthcare needs or compromised immune systems, have delayed various hospital-based medical procedures and diagnostic testing for far too long waiting for you folks to start practicing what you preach.

Anthony J. Dennis of SouthWindsor worked as a lawyer for Aetna and other healthcare companies for 30 years.