Riverside vaccination update

Employees walk across the overpass at Riverside Medical Center earlier this week. As both Riverside and AMITA Health St. Mary’s Hospital inch closer to their vaccine mandate deadlines for employees, the compliance rates are climbing. There continues, however, to be employees who say they will not comply with the mandate regardless of whether or not it will mean they lose their jobs. READ MORE.

While the COVID-19 vaccination mandates for healthcare workers in Kankakee County is certainly not a game, it would be fair to say the clock is nearing 0:00 for employees to become vaccinated.

While Riverside Healthcare has established Oct. 31 as its deadline and AMITA Health St. Mary’s Hospital’s deadline coming Nov. 12, there is a growing number of employees for both organizations who have complied.

Kyle Benoit, Riverside’s chief operating officer, noted the organization’s vaccination rate for its 2,913-member staff has risen from 65 percent on Sept. 20, to 84 percent as of Thursday. He believes the number will grow significantly higher within the next 15 days.

“We are very happy with the progress,” he said. “More and more of our workforce are getting this done. We certainly don’t want to lose people, but we must protect our patients. I believe more people are getting more comfortable with this.”

Benoit estimated there are less than 300 full-time equivalent employees at Riverside who are unvaccinated at this point. He also noted Riverside has granted 75 FTE medical or religious exemptions to the vaccine requirement.

For AMITA Health, it reported 70 percent of its 760-member workforce have now been vaccinated.

Dr. Kalisha Hill, AMITA’s chief medical officer, noted it is unfortunate it took the mandate to get greater compliance. She said AMITA was at 30 percent compliance in the early summer months, so great strides have been made.

And, she noted, vaccinations are the only way the community will overcome the spread of the coronavirus.

“[To] those not vaccinated and being told they must get it, we can’t test our way out of this pandemic,” she said. “... Getting vaccinated is about the greater good. We are hoping those who remain unvaccinated will become vaccinated. We are trying to give everyone the time to make this decision.

“Right now it is all hands on deck regarding the vaccination,” Hill said. “We make sure they understand the gravity of this situation.”

Both organizations’ rates far exceed Kankakee County’s vaccination rate, which stands at 42 percent.

NOT BEING ‘DEFIANT’ — NURSE

Of those approximately 300 Riverside employees who are not vaccinated, one is Beth Norwick, a 31-year registered nurse.

The Bourbonnais resident said she believes she will lose her job in the coming weeks as she doesn’t plan to become vaccinated.

Norwick stressed she is not a so-called “anti-vaccination” person. She simply believes the vaccination is not “effective or necessary for everyone.” She noted she has personally cared for patients at the hospital who have become ill despite being vaccinated.

She noted she has had COVID-19 herself.

“It’s not a good risk-benefit balance,” she said of getting the vaccine.

She stressed she is fully capable of doing her job successfully with the use of proper protective wear.

“Accommodations can be made for those with strongly held beliefs. I feel like Riverside has chosen to make this commitment, and I don’t believe these guidelines are within our [U.S.] Constitutional guidelines. This will have to be stepped back eventually,” Norwick said.

But, Norwick is willing to accept her fate.

“It’s a lot of years I’ve served this community. I’ve been a dependable, loyal employee. I’m not willing to sacrifice my well-being for the mandate of this shot. I’m not doing this to be defiant or to make waves to Riverside,” she said.

SEEKING COMPLIANCE

Dr. Annabelle Veerapaneni, an oncologist with Riverside, noted she has counseled many patients as they have brought vaccination questions and concerns to her.

She noted that of the numerous conversations she’s attempted to have with unvaccinated patients, only two informed her they did not want to discuss the issue.

“I think that’s pretty good. There are valid reasons why people are concerned and it’s due to all the misinformation they have heard,” she said.

She noted with past vaccination programs, there was certainly more trust in the medical establishment.

“People now question the ‘experts,’” she said. “... So much of these concerns can be fear-based.” She also noted so much of the nation’s COVID-19 vaccination program is laced with political overtones.

“We’ve pulled together in so many ways as a country, but for this vaccine being connected to so many political issues ...” she said, “we simply have to do this.”

She has told people the vaccination is like being handed a parachute as your airplane is going down.

“I would hope when given the opportunity to protect yourself, you would jump at that chance,” she said. “... The technology is around. We know these vaccines work. This strikes me as odd. I don’t understand the rationale. This has been studied for a long time. It’s gone through the trials.”

She said she is saddened by what she describes as the “callousness and coldness” of those who reject the protection of vaccine offers, in particular those associated with the medical profession.

“It’s sad when I hear people in this profession spreading misinformation,” she said. “If you are spreading misinformation, you need to stop doing that.”

Lee Provost, an award-winning reporter, has been writing local news stories for The Daily Journal since 1988. He is a lifelong resident of the region. Provost can be reached at lprovost@daily-journal.com.