ROCHELLE — After a late August COVID-19 vaccine mandate made by Gov. JB Pritzker for healthcare employees, Rochelle Community Hospital fully implemented the requirement last month.
Those that are not fully-vaccinated are required to get tested for COVID-19 at least once a week. RCH CEO Gregg Olson said “70-something” percent of hospital staff are fully-vaccinated. About 60 employees are not fully-vaccinated and need to be tested once a week.
“The mandate isn't you have to be vaccinated, it's you have to be tested,” Olson said. “Our staff understands that. I would be less than truthful if I said everybody is happy about it. Because not everybody is. But most are. I would say most people understand the position we're in. We are following the governor's order. That's our role. We have to and we will until it changes.
Olson said the hospital is paying for the cost of the weekly tests of unvaccinated employees and they take part in the same testing program that a member of the community would if they wanted to come to the hospital for a COVID-19 test.
Covering the cost of tests for employees was “always part of the plan” Olson said. He doesn’t want to add another burden onto employees and praised them for their work during the pandemic. He doesn’t want to lose employees and wants to keep RCH’s staff intact.
“We didn't think it was fair that our employees had to take on that cost,” Olson said. “There are some organizations that are doing that. They're mandating that their employees pay for it. We're not there yet. I can't say we'd never look at that in the future, but today we're not interested in doing that.”
If an employee refuses to get tested, they are not terminated, Olson said. Refusing to get tested results in the employee not being able to work until they get tested.
Olson said there “probably a few cases” where thinks the vaccine mandate might be behind an employee leaving RCH.
"If that's the case, it's few,” Olson said. “Few and far between. I'm sure there's got to be a couple instances where we've probably had people that are just not aligned with the mandate and they have to make their own decisions. I have to follow the mandate. That puts us in sometimes an awkward position."
Olson said RCH has seen “some turnover” among employees after the pandemic started to lighten up and people got to the point where they were more likely to be attracted to new opportunities.
When the idea of an employee vaccine requirement was brought up to Olson before the state mandate, he said he had concerns about one due to concerns of losing or not being able to attract employees to the small town hospital.
The hospital is currently feeling the effects of the nationwide shortage of registered nurses and has five open RN positions.
“We're all in this together,” Olson said. “If you're in the healthcare field, it's pretty hard to get away from the testing mandate. Wherever you work in healthcare, you're going to run into some kind of form of this. Having said that, people have become I think a little more willing to look at other positions.”