Last December, the Michigan Nurses Association voted to ratify a one-year extension to their previous collective bargaining agreement with Michigan Medicine. The agreement, which included a stipulation that nurses are not required to be vaccinated against COVID-19, covers all 6,200 nurses in the University of Michigan Professional Nurse Council Independent Union and will expire in June 2022.
According to the new agreement, “subject to Federal and State requirements and guidelines for distribution priority, the Employer will provide the COVID-19 vaccination at no cost to the 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 in their collective bargaining agreement. The provisions of the agreement allow nurses to negotiate a vaccine mandate and though it encourages vaccination, it doesn’t require it.
Michigan Medicine spokeswoman Mary Masson told The Michigan Daily that reporting individual vaccination status is not required as well.
“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 vaccine mandate,” Masson wrote in an email. “We are currently asking our nurses to voluntarily report their vaccination status, but have not collected all of that data.”
Anne Jackson, a registered nurse at Michigan Medicine and interim president of the MNA, said she believes a vast majority of nurses at Michigan Medicine are vaccinated and encourages everyone who can to get vaccinated. Jackson added that there are other aspects of safety that Michigan Medicine staff should be focusing on and that vaccines are only one part of the fight against the pandemic.
“We need to make sure that every nurse has access to proper PPE,” Jackson wrote. “We need to make sure that nurses are promptly notified by Michigan Medicine if we have been exposed to COVID-19. We need to make sure that nurses are able to easily and quickly get tested if we are exposed irrespective of vaccination status. We need to make sure that all nurses are able to take the time off they need if we get exposed or contract COVID-19.”
Many Michigan undergraduate nursing students said they feel as though getting the vaccine is an obligation that nurses should have to follow. Nursing junior Molly Reynolds explained that health care providers set the standard for others, so if patients see their caretakers not getting vaccinated, that might persuade them to decline the vaccine as well.
“As someone who wants to be a nurse, I see it as part of my job to get vaccinated for everything I can,” Reynolds said. “I think that’s a crucial way of protecting not only your patients, but also yourself.”
Reynolds believes every hospital employee should be vaccinated, whether they are in direct contact with patients or not. She said that vaccines help the hospital reach its common goal of keeping everyone safe.
“Even though the hospital is a large network of people, everyone is very closely connected,” Reynolds said. “Even if you’re not directly interacting with patients, in a hospital you’re always interacting with somebody who will.”
According to Masson, several other Michigan Medicine employees are members of unions with collective bargaining agreements, including physician assistants who have direct patient contact daily. Although their contract gave them the freedom to negotiate against a COVID-19 vaccine mandate, the United Physician Assistants of Michigan Medicine agreed to mandatory COVID-19 vaccines for all members. This requirement took effect on Sept. 16.
UPAMM President Jill Hasen said the union board worked directly with their members to vote on the COVID-19 vaccine mandate. With 76% of their union voting for the mandate, UPAMM pushed to rule in favor of the majority, Hasen said.
“We were pretty confident that the vote would go for a mandate, because we are 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 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 bargaining agreement they had in place, it was important to listen to their members’ concerns. Hasen said she believes health care providers should be mandated to get the vaccine.
Members of the House Officers Association Union also have a collective bargaining agreement in place with Michigan Medicine. HOA employees work in several different 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 to the union.
“HOA supports vaccination as a key component to maintaining a safe and healthy workplace to protect patients, learners, and workforce members from COVID-19,” Shnayder-Adams wrote. “We have sent a demand to bargain over discipline for our members who fail to get vaccinated 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 by vaccinated staff only. He explained that somebody who is vaccinated produces lower viral loads and has a less likely chance of being infected in the first place.
“Somebody who’s non-vaccinated should understand these requests not as an attack against their own personal beliefs, but simply as an act to preserve one’s health,” Cornish said.
Hasen agreed with this sentiment, but added that health care professionals do not have to disclose their vaccination status to patients.
Masson said Michigan Medicine patients could request to be taken care of by vaccinated providers. However, every care team member 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, when possible, as staffing allows,” Mason wrote. “We cannot guarantee we will be able to honor all requests.”
Some students do believe, however, that there are certain exemptions that would be acceptable to get out of receiving the vaccine. Both Cornish and Reynolds believe that exemptions for medical reasons are completely valid, because medical professionals do not want to cause unnecessary harm to people who may be negatively affected by the vaccine. Cornish also believes that religious reasons are an acceptable exemption.
“I hold the freedom of religion as an inalienable right,” Cornish said. “So if getting the vaccine may violate somebody’s beliefs, I think it’s a completely valid exemption. It’s also important for people who do not participate in religion to have an exemption for their ‘strongly-held personal beliefs.’”
Like other hospitals and industries across the country, Michigan Medicine is currently experiencing staff shortages, Masson told The Daily. Jackson emphasized the toll shortages are taking on nurses and patient care.
“The prospect of staffing dropping even lower for any reason is genuinely a really frightening one,” Jackson wrote. “Right now, nurses are stretched too thin to provide the best care possible.”
Hasen said she’s noticed the effects of the worker shortage in lower-paying jobs at Michigan Medicine and believes it is the result of insufficient wages rather than the University’s vaccine mandate.
“People just don’t want to work for low-paying wages anymore, they can’t (if) it’s not a living wage,” Hasen said.
Daily News Editor Hannah Mackay contributed to reporting.
Daily Staff Reporters Nadir Al-Saidi and Ashna Mehra can be reached at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.