Trinity Health mandates COVID-19 vaccination for all 117,000 employees, business partners

COVID-19 vaccine
Trinity Health will be enforcing a Sept. 21 deadline at most of its locations but will permit religious and health exemptions. The 91-hospital Catholic system said an estimated 75% of its employees have already received a single shot. (Getty/Meyer & Meyer)

Trinity Health is the latest—and now the largest—U.S. provider organization to roll out a COVID-19 vaccination requirement for all of its employees.

Announced Thursday and effective immediately, the nonprofit, Catholic healthcare system said the policy will extend across its entire workforce of more than 117,000 employees, including clinical staff, remote employees, contractors and “those conducting business in its healthcare facilities.”

Trinity said it will approve exemptions for religious or health reasons that are formally requested and documented. Others who don’t meet the criteria for exemption and fail to provide proof of vaccination “will face termination of employment,” according to the announcement.

Trinity said an estimated 75% of its employees have already received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and it hopes the new policy will bring that number closer to 100%.

"Safety is one of our core values. We feel it is important that we take every step available to us to stop the spread and protect those around us—especially the most vulnerable in our communities who cannot be vaccinated including young children and the more than 10 million people who are immunocompromised," Trinity Health President and CEO Mike Slubowski said in a statement.

"Over the last year, Trinity Health has counted our own colleagues and patients in the too-high coronavirus death toll. Now that we have a proven way to prevent COVID-19 deaths, we are not hesitating to do our part," he said.

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Livonia, Michigan-based Trinity operates 91 hospitals and 113 continuing care locations serving more than 30 million people across 22 states. The system reports $19.4 billion in annual operating revenues and is on track to top that number having recently reported $15.1 billion in operating revenues for the nine-month period between July 2020 and March 2021.  

Trinity said that most of its locations will be requiring employees to submit their proof of vaccination by Sept. 21. Should it be determined that COVID-19 vaccine boosters will be necessary down the line, the hospital said that it would similarly require employees to submit proof of their receipt “as needed.”

"The science has shown us that the COVID-19 vaccine is the single most effective tool in slowing, and even stopping, the spread of the virus," Dan Roth, M.D., Trinity Health executive vice president and chief clinical officer, said in a statement. "As a Catholic Health Ministry—even if we work remotely or do not regularly encounter patients—we view ourselves as caregivers, and it's important that we do everything we can to end the pandemic and save lives."

Trinity is among the growing number of provider organizations taking a hard stance on employee COVID-19 vaccination. Among the larger of these to announce mandatory policies over the last few months are St. Louis-based Mercy, Detroit-based Henry Ford Health System, St. Louis-based SSM Health and the member hospitals of the Connecticut Hospital Association (PDF).

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But perhaps the best known of the bunch has been Houston Methodist, which drew a line in the sand on June 8 and has since cut loose 153 employees who did not comply with the vaccine mandate.

That policy led to protests from the dissenting employees as well as a lawsuit that argued the system was “forcing its employees to be human ‘guinea pigs’ as a condition for continued employment." The case was dismissed by a U.S. district judge and quickly appealed by the employees.

Other organizations such as Mass General Brigham have signaled support for a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy but said that they would not enforce the requirement until a COVID-19 vaccine receives formal approval from the FDA.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission paved the way for employer-mandated COVID-19 vaccine policies with guidance permitting the requirements “so long as employers comply with the reasonable accommodation provisions of the [Americans with Disabilities Act] and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other [Equal Employment Opportunity] considerations.”