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AMITA Health requiring employees to be COVID-19 vaccinated

AMITA Health announced Tuesday that all its associates will be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Nov. 12, joining a wave of health systems making the shot mandatory for health workers nationwide.

This requirement will include AMITA Health St. Mary’s Hospital Kankakee and its approximately 1,000 employees, the system’s other 12 local centers, its 19 hospitals and more than 230 sites of care in Illinois. AMITA Health claims the system has 900 providers, more than 26,000 associates and 7,000 physician partners nationwide.

“The health and safety of all is our first and foremost priority and our medical experts agree — vaccination is our best way out of this pandemic,” AMITA Health President and CEO Keith Parrott said in a press release. “These vaccines have proven to be very effective in lessening illness in breakthrough cases. Only by vaccinating will we stop this virus from circulating and mutating.”

The decision was made public a day after Pfizer’s vaccine received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, amid a rise in COVID cases nationwide attributed to the delta variant.

Other health systems including Ascension Health, Advocate Aurora Health and Mercy have put in place requirements for employee vaccination by fall. The American Hospital Association said in a July 21 policy statement that it supports hospitals and health systems that adopt mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies for healthcare personnel.

Representatives from Kankakee-based Riverside Healthcare said with the FDA’s announcement, the health system is considering further measures, but nothing has changed at this time. Riverside, which is Kankakee County’s largest employer, said it has around 54 percent of workers vaccinated.

Previously, in an Aug. 6 message to its approximately 3,000 employees, the health care provider stated that all Leadership Evaluation Managers leaders will need to be vaccinated, with the first dose being received no later than Sept. 7.

Riverside also noted that all employees who received their employment offer on Aug. 16 or later will need to be vaccinated. As well, all on-site clinical instructors and students in clinical areas will need their first vaccination dose before they can begin on-site.

“After studying the data and consulting clinical experts, we join many leading national healthcare systems in taking these steps to address these concerns,” Phil Kambic, Riverside’s president and CEO wrote in an Aug. 6 memo to LEM leaders.

Dr. Kalisha Hill, regional chief medical officer for AMITA Health St. Mary’s Hospital Kankakee, said AMITA has been preparing to implement its new vaccination policy for some time.

“The FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine was not part of our plan, but fits well with our goal of increasing vaccination among our staff and the communities we serve,” she said.

The group of employees required to get vaccinations includes those employed by AMITA Health, its subsidiaries and partners; physicians and advanced practice providers, whether employed or independent; and volunteers and vendors entering AMITA Health facilities, according to an AMITA Health representative.

As a system, 70 percent of AMITA Health associates are already fully vaccinated, according to AMITA Health.

AMITA Health will provide a process through which requests for exemption can be made if an employee is not able to get vaccinated due to a medical condition or strongly held religious belief. These exemption requests will be reviewed by members of the Associate and Occupational Health, Human Resources and Mission teams, a representative said.

The press release said education and listening sessions will be held in the upcoming weeks, which will aim to address questions and concerns employees have about the vaccines.

If the requirement will put a strain on local AMITA facilities during an ongoing nursing shortage remains to be seen.

“Relying on the strength and size of our system, we are fortunate to be able to work with all our hardworking staff to cover anticipated shortages daily among our hospitals,” Hill said.

Though vaccination clinics have been held throughout the AMITA Health system over the past nine months, additional clinics for associates and physicians are currently being planned, according to an AMITA Health representative.

As COVID cases rise, push for vaccination continues

KANKAKEE — As COVID-19 cases and the positivity rate increased over the past month, the Kankakee County Health Department has continued its push to get individuals in the county vaccinated.

“The traction is slow, but we’re moving forward,” Kankakee County Health Administrator John Bevis said Tuesday at the county board’s executive committee meeting.

There were 600 new COVID cases this month for a total of 15,457 for the county. The positivity rate for Region 7, which is comprised of Kankakee and Will counties, is 7.1 percent for August. That’s up 3.3 percent from July. Kankakee County’s positivity rate is 6.2 percent which is up from 1.4 percent in July.

“We’ve increased by four times with the new cases that we have seen,” Bevis said.

On a positive note, there have been no new COVID deaths in the past month. The county has recorded 243 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

A total of 43,305 individuals have been fully vaccinated, and 85,283 have received at least one dose which is an increase of 6,200 from a month ago. The county’s vaccination rate as of Tuesday morning is 39.36 percent.

“So the pharmacies, the health department, the state health department coming into our community are continuing to get any of those individuals vaccinated that are wanting to,” Bevis said. “We had a good event over the weekend with second-dose clinics at BBCHS, Momence and then we were at Caldwell Chapel AME Zion Church [in Kankakee].”

The vaccination rate — a metric that represents the number of people who are totally vaccinated — for the U.S. is at 50.4 percent.

Can Kankakee County get to that mark?

“A lot of it just depends I think on politics, population, ethnicity of our county, and then a larger population that can’t get vaccinated,” Bevis said.

The goal of the nation is to get to herd immunity which is 70 percent fully vaccinated. The total vaccination number for Illinois is 50.5 percent.

“Will that help fill in the gaps of the areas?” Bevis asked. “Kankakee is not the only one that’s sitting there with lower vaccination rates. I’ve always said we’re too big to be small and too small to be big. That’s part of it. You get sucked into Chicago.”

Will it come to the point with COVID that there will be wholesale vaccine mandates?

“There’s already agencies, universities, government facilities that are starting to require it even before the full FDA approval,” Bevis said. “I would anticipate more doing or exploring that opportunity, as Moderna and J&J ultimately become approved.”

Bevis said the mandates might come from both the private and public sectors.

“But again, you have to sort of weigh what populations are you talking about?” he said. “Many agencies have many people that are vaccinated for their total, employment numbers. But many don’t, schools, nursing homes, [I’m] hearing around 50 percent, some 60, some 40, but the average is around 50 percent, so, it’s just not good.

“It’s not good numbers. If you’re trying to argue against wearing masks and stuff, we’re going to have people that are potentially exposing the vulnerable, older people that refuse to get vaccinated in the first place, or for whatever reason can’t. Then it’s just a recipe for disaster.”

With the Pfizer vaccine receiving full FDA approval on Monday, that could potentially clear an obstacle for many to get vaccinated.

“As the vaccines become approved, the argument that ‘well, it was an emergency-use authorization,’ falls out the window,” Bevis said. “Now you do have an approved [vaccine]. There is plenty of research and studies on it, and it’s not any different than the other side effects of most of other vaccines that are already out.”

Interested party tours JCPenney, mayor says

BRADLEY — Has the Bradley village administration found an occupant for the 63,000-square-foot former JCPenney store in Northfield Square mall?


Bradley Mayor Mike Watson informed the village board on Monday that an architect and a potential occupant have gone through the property and have plans as to how to use the space.

Without divulging the identity of the interested party, the mayor described it as a “variety of entertainment company.”

He said discussions have been held, adding that the company would be interested in taking the entire space. He noted the company had also looked at the now-vacant former Carson’s men’s store as well in past years.

The organization would be interested in beginning construction as soon as January 2022 to retrofit the location for its needs. He said early conversations are that the company would be like to be in the space by July or August 2022.

The village purchased the property in June for $577,500. The village purchased the 80,000-square-foot Carson’s store for $1.1 million.

The village signed an option to purchase in March with Dr. Sanjay Patel, the owner of the 114-room Comfort Inn and the 92-room Holiday Inn & Suites. Patel is in the process of completing a feasibility study on the property to transform it into a banquet and convention-type complex.

Regarding the JCPenney site, Watson said if a deal comes together, it would likely be some type of rent-to-own agreement.

Asked about revealing the identity of the interested parties, Watson said that was something he’s not comfortable doing right now.

He would only state those who would operate the location would be local individuals.

“What they are discussing would be a nice addition and something that would draw people here throughout the week,” he said. “But nothing happens overnight.”

Authorities investigate Momence woman's death

MOMENCE — Authorities are investigating the apparent homicide of a Momence woman, Kankakee County Coroner Bob Gessner said.

Delfina Alvarado, 57, was pronounced dead at 12:38 a.m. Tuesday in her home in the 400 block of Hill Street in Momence, Gessner said.

The preliminary cause of death is a gunshot wound, he said.

Someone in the home called 911 shortly before midnight, Gessner said. Momence police and Illinois State Police Crime Scene are investigating along with the coroner’s office, Gessner said.

The Daily Journal has reached out to Momence police for more information on the shooting.

Speaking at an event in Chicago on Tuesday, Gov. JB Pritzker warned that if COVID numbers and hospitalizations don’t decrease, the state will impose “significantly greater mitigations.”