Digital Editor

Teresa McMinn is the Digital Editor for the Cumberland Times-News. She can be reached at 304-639-2371, tmcminn@times-news.com or on Twitter @teresamcminn1

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CUMBERLAND — While efforts are underway to require vaccination against COVID-19 as a condition for employment at hospitals and health systems across Maryland, the largest local medical facilities said they aren’t ready to take such action.

According to a press release from the Maryland Hospital Association, hospitals and health systems joined together Wednesday to call for all employees and clinical team members to be vaccinated against the virus.

“This important step helps ensure the safety and well-being of Maryland hospital employees, patients, and visitors,” the release states and adds the decision was based on expert guidance and data showing the minimal risk of COVID-19 vaccines compared to their high rates of effectiveness.

The release states that MHA serves 60 nonprofit hospitals and health systems across the state through collective action to shape policies, practices, financing and performance to advance health care and the health of all Marylanders.

“Under the statewide consensus, health systems and hospitals in Maryland will each set a date after which vaccination against COVID-19 will be a condition of employment or contract engagement for non-employees who work at hospitals,” the release states. “Hospitals will comply with all federal and state laws in granting appropriate exemptions for medical or religious reasons.”

Roughly 70% of Maryland hospital employees have been fully vaccinated, along with more than three million Marylanders overall and about 140 million Americans, the release states.

“Maryland’s dedicated hospital workers have served bravely on the front lines in the fight against COVID-19 since the first cases emerged in Maryland 15 months ago,” Bob Atlas, MHA’s president and CEO said via the release. “This consensus demonstrates hospitals’ commitment to caring for their communities and fulfills their promise to put patients first.”

UPMC Western Maryland officials said the hospital system encourages staff to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and offers many opportunities for vaccination to ease the process.

“UPMC awaits more data on the efficacy of the vaccines in preventing transmission of COVID-19 before requiring the COVID-19 vaccine for employees,” the hospital system said via email. “Vaccination is one layer of protection; at UPMC, our multiple infection prevention efforts — including mandatory employee, patient, and visitor masking — are highly effective at preventing transmission of COVID-19 within our facilities. We will continue to collect data and weigh evidence on the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines and may require our employees to receive them in the future.”

Garrett Regional Medical Center took a similar stance.

“The leadership at (GRMC) agrees that vaccinating against COVID-19 is effective in preventing the spread of the virus,” GRMC President and CEO Mark Boucot said via email. “At this time, the hospital has not made a determination about whether or not the vaccine will be mandatory for its workforce.”

The hospital leadership plans to discuss the issue with its board of governors and WVU Medicine officials before deciding whether the vaccine should be mandatory.

“GRMC will continue to require other infection controls including wearing masks and other personal protective gear, social distancing, hand washing, and other measures per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance,” Boucot said.

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