Last December, the Michigan Nurses Association voted to ratify a one-year extension to its previous collective agreement with Michigan Medicine. The agreement, which included a stipulation that nurses are not required to be vaccinated against COVID-19, covers the 6,200 nurses in the Independent Union of the Council of Professional Nurses at the University of Michigan and will expire in June 2022.
According to the new agreement, “subject to federal and state priority distribution requirements and guidelines, the employer will provide the COVID-19 vaccine at no cost to employees and on a voluntary basis.”
The University’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate announced in July by University President Mark Schlissel does not apply to nurses at Michigan Medicine due to the terms of their collective agreement. The terms of the agreement allow nurses to negotiate a mandate for vaccination and while it encourages vaccination, it does not require it.
Michigan Medicine spokeswoman Mary Masson told the Michigan Daily that reporting of individual vaccination status was also not required.
“Our staff members are required to be vaccinated, unless they have received an exemption or are covered by collective bargaining and have not reached an agreement on the vaccination mandate,” Masson wrote in an email. “We are currently asking our nurses to voluntarily report their immunization status, but we have not collected all of this data. “
Anne Jackson, registered nurse at Michigan Medicine and interim president of the MNA, said she believes the vast majority of nurses in Michigan Medicine are vaccinated and encourages anyone who can to get vaccinated. Jackson added that there are other aspects of safety that Michigan Medicine staff should focus on and that vaccines are only part of the fight against the pandemic.
“We need to make sure every nurse has access to appropriate PPE,” Jackson wrote. “We need to make sure nurses are promptly notified by Michigan Medicine if we have been exposed to COVID-19. We need to make sure nurses can get tested easily and quickly if we are exposed, regardless of our immunization status. We need to make sure all nurses are able to take the time they need if we are exposed or contracted with COVID-19. “
Many Michigan undergraduate nursing students have said they believe getting the vaccine is an obligation nurses should have to meet. Young nurse Molly Reynolds explained that healthcare providers set the standard for others, so if patients see their caregivers not getting vaccinated, it could persuade them to decline the vaccine as well.
“As someone who wants to be a nurse, I consider it part of my job to get vaccinated for whatever I can,” Reynolds said. “I think this is a crucial way to protect not only your patients, but also yourself.”
Reynolds believes that every hospital employee should be vaccinated, whether they are in direct contact with patients or not. She said the vaccines helped the hospital achieve its common goal of protecting everyone.
“Even though the hospital is a large network of people, everyone is very closely connected,” said Reynolds. “Even if you don’t interact with patients directly, in a hospital you are still interacting with someone who will.”
According to Masson, several other Michigan Medicine employees are members of unions with collective agreements, including medical assistants who come into direct contact with patients on a daily basis. Although their contract gave them the freedom to negotiate against a COVID-19 vaccine mandate, the United Physician Assistants of Michigan Medicine agreed to obligate COVID-19 vaccines for all members. This requirement came into effect on September 16.
UPAMM President Jill Hasen said the union’s board of directors had worked directly with its members to vote on the mandate for the COVID-19 vaccine. With 76% of their union voting for the term, UPAMM pushed for a majority vote, Hasen said.
“We were pretty confident the vote would go for a term because we’re medical professionals and believe in science, so we put it to a vote,” Hasen said. “We really felt it was important that we let our members be a part of this and make our decision.”
Hasen explained that since UPAMM members were originally not subject to the University’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, due to the collective agreement they had in place, it was important to listen to the concerns of their members. Hasen said she believes health care providers should be mandated to obtain the vaccine.
Members of the House Officers Association Union have also entered into a collective agreement with Michigan Medicine. HOA employees work in several research, education, and patient care capacities at Michigan Medicine. With over 96% of HOA members vaccinated, President Michelle Shnayder-Adams wrote in an email to The Daily that vaccination is a very important topic for the union.
“HOA supports vaccination as a key part of maintaining a safe and healthy workplace to protect patients, learners and staff from COVID-19,” Shnayder-Adams wrote. “We have sent out a request to negotiate on discipline for our non-vaccinated members or an exemption.”
LSA junior Austin Cornish, a patient transporter at Michigan Medicine, said he believes patients should have the right to request that they be treated only by vaccinated staff. He explained that someone who is vaccinated produces lower viral loads and is less likely to be infected in the first place.
“Someone who is not vaccinated should understand these requests not as an attack on their own personal beliefs, but simply as an act to preserve their health,” said Cornish.
Hasen agreed with this sentiment, but added that medical professionals do not have to disclose their immunization status to patients.
Masson said Michigan Medicine patients can apply to be looked after by vaccinated providers. However, each member of the healthcare team follows strict infection prevention protocols and safety measures, Masson said.
“Patient requests for vaccinated team members will be considered on an individual basis and may be accommodated, to the extent possible, staff permitting,” Mason wrote. “We cannot guarantee that we will be able to honor all requests.”
Some students, however, believe that there are certain exemptions that would be acceptable for not receiving the vaccine. Cornish and Reynolds both believe the medical exemptions are very valid, as medical professionals do not want to cause unnecessary harm to people who may be adversely affected by the vaccine. Cornish also believes religious reasons are an acceptable exemption.
“I consider freedom of religion to be an inalienable right,” said Cornish. “So if the vaccine can violate someone’s beliefs, I think that’s a very valid exemption. It is also important that people who do not practice religion be granted an exemption for their “strong personal beliefs”.
Like other hospitals and industries across the country, Michigan Medicine is currently experiencing a staffing shortage, Masson told The Daily. Jackson pointed out that toll shortages are weighing on nurses and patient care.
“The prospect of seeing the numbers drop even lower for whatever reason is really frightening,” Jackson wrote. “Right now, nurses are under too much strain to provide the best possible care. “
Hasen said she noticed the effects of the shortage of workers in lower-paying jobs at Michigan Medicine and believed it was the result of insufficient wages rather than the university’s vaccine mandate.
“People just don’t want to work for low wages anymore, they can’t (if) it’s not a living wage,” Hasen said.
Daily News editor-in-chief Hannah Mackay contributed reporting.