Voluntary

Maria Parham Health has yet to join some other hospitals in North Carolina that have announced a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for their staff.

HENDERSON — Maria Parham Health has yet to join the list of North Carolina hospitals that are requiring employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19, even though one of its corporate partners has taken that step.

The Henderson hospital as of Monday afternoon was “strongly encouraging our employees to get vaccinated, but not requiring it at this time,” said Donna Young, Maria Parham’s coordinator of marketing and communications.

Young’s comments reiterated a statement hospital leaders issued Friday in response to a question from The Dispatch.

“At this time, Maria Parham Health is strongly encouraging and supporting all of our team members to become fully vaccinated,” it said. “There is significant evidence that grows daily indicating that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. Understanding that the situation changes daily, we are committed to carefully evaluating the research and the level of COVID-19 activity in our communities as we make this very important decision independent of approval from the [U.S.] Food and Drug Administration.

It added, “We will continue to evaluate our procedures and closely follow guidance from our local, state and federal partners in public health.”

Maria Parham is part of a chain of hospitals that belong to the Duke LifePoint Healthcare partnership. Most are in North Carolina, but there are a few in Pennsylvania, Virginia and Michigan also.

As the name implies, the partnership is a collaboration between the Durham-based Duke University Health System and Tennessee-based LifePoint Health.

The Duke system announced last week that it will require its employees to get vaccinated by Sept. 21. Senior officials with Duke Health told Triangle-area newspapers and television stations that only about three-quarters of its staff are vaccinated.

The Maria Parham statement acknowledged Duke’s move.

“We are aware of Duke University Health System’s decision to require the COVID-19 vaccine for its team members, and we respect this position,” it said. “Like the majority of hospitals and health systems in the country, we are continuing to discuss this complex issue and determine [the] best next steps for the communities we serve.”

The Duke announcement came the same week that trustees of the major trade group for the state’s hospitals, the N.C. Healthcare Association, decided to endorse a vaccine requirement for health care workers.

The group, whose members include Maria Parham and the Oxford-based Granville Health System, cited the rise of the Delta variant of the coronavirus as a spur to action. Delta accounts for most recent infections nationally and has been rampaging particularly among the unvaccinated.

“Protecting patients, visitors and healthcare personnel from COVID-19 continues to be of paramount importance,” the N.C. Healthcare Association said in its statement on the trustees’ endorsement of a vaccine requirement. “Hospital and health system employee vaccination against COVID-19 is vital to safely care for patients by protecting them from infection, and to mitigate the spread of the virus within healthcare facilities and among clinicians, patients and their families and friends.”

Monday saw the American Medical Association, the American Nursing Association and a number of other national trade groups issue a joint statement urging employers in the health care and long-term care professions to require their workers to get vaccinated.

The step is “especially necessary to protect those who are vulnerable, including unvaccinated children and the immunocompromised,” those groups said, adding that the move is hardly unprecedented as “many health care and long-term care organizations already require vaccinations for influenza, hepatitis B and pertussis.”

In North Carolina, other hospital systems announcing vaccination requirements in recent days included Chapel Hill-based UNC Health, Greensboro-based Cone Health, Charlotte-based Atrium Health, Winston-Salem-based Novant Health, and Winston-Salem’s Wake Forest Baptist Health.

Another system, Greenville-based Vidant Health, remains in the voluntary camp regarding COVID vaccination, but its leaders signaled on Thursday that their position is subject to change. A statement they gave Greenville TV station WITN said they were “urgently discussing when and how” to issue a mandate.

Officials with the Granville Health System could not be reached for comment.

In North Carolina, COVID-19 case rates have increased over the past month, while vaccination rates have fallen off considerably from their early April peak.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported Monday that about 43% of residents in Granville and Warren counties are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, along with 42% of residents in Vance County. Those percentages have scarcely moved in the past few weeks.

Across the state, 46% of residents and 57% of adults are fully vaccinated.

Contact Ray Gronberg at rgronberg@hendersondispatch.com or by phone at 252-436-2850.

Contact Ray Gronberg at rgronberg@hendersondispatch.com or by phone at 252-436-2850.