In the days leading up to the deadline for Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, internal emails obtained by LNP | LancasterOnline show the hospital appears to have achieved a staff vaccination rate of better than 90%.
That percentage — which LG Health officials declined to confirm — would likely have been buoyed by the untold number of employees who have left the organization since announcing the vaccine mandate in May.
Employees have until Sept. 1 to be fully vaccinated or risk termination.
A person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after completing a two-dose mRNA vaccine or a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine to ensure adequate time for the immune system to respond.
The last vaccine deadline was Wednesday.
On Aug. 13, an internal email showed vaccinated staff and those granted a medical or religious exemption accounted for roughly 94% of all employees.
It is unclear from the email, however, if the percentage of vaccinated employees is specifically for LG Health, or for the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which includes Lancaster General Hospital and five other patient-care facilities.
John Lines, an LG Health spokesperson, said in an email Friday that the hospital would continue its practice of not providing “interim updates on our progress.”
In mid-May when LG Health CEO John J. Herman announced the new requirement in a staff memo, roughly 66% of staff were vaccinated.
At that time, very few hospitals in the United States had implemented such a mandate, with none in Pennsylvania. Now, at least 160 health systems, states and health organizations have followed suit.
The vaccine mandate has not been without controversy.
LG Health employees opposed to the vaccine requirement and their supporters have held multiple protests and a petition drive to compel management to roll back the mandate.
‘It’s not uncommon for us to be recruiting’
Hospital officials have been tight-lipped about the mandate rollout, its potential impact on staffing and their ability to provide care to the community, as well as the current staff vaccination rate.
In July, LNP | LancasterOnline learned LG Health had implemented a recruiting initiative to lure back nurses who had left in the past 18 months with a $7,500 bonus.
LG Health officials disputed that the initiative was related to the vaccine mandate.
“We constantly conduct a variety of employee recruiting strategies and campaigns to enable us to address the growing demand for our care,” Lines said in a July 6 email to LNP | LancasterOnline.
And earlier this month — after employees and supporters opposed to the mandate began discussing widely in the community and in online chat groups a possible staffing shortage of nearly 800 workers — hospital officials downplayed the number of open positions.
“Given Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health employs nearly 10,000 people, it’s not uncommon for us to be recruiting for a wide variety of 600 to 800 open positions, at any given time,” Marcie Brody, an LG Health spokesperson, said in an Aug. 12 email.
Brody added, “We employ a variety of employee-recruiting strategies and campaigns that enable us to meet current and future demand for our diverse range of services.”
Brody, however, declined to say whether the open positions were related to the hospital’s initiative to rehire its former nurses.
Eric Winter, a Berks County attorney advising mandate-resistant employees, said hospital staff have shared stories about the untold number who have left LGH.
Current and former LG Health employees LNP | LancasterOnline has spoken to confirm this as well.
Winter said he read internal emails in which LG Health officials in mid-July discussed hiring vaccinated, traveling nurses to build up the staffing complement should the mandate prompt a mass exodus.
"We're not talking just about office staff," Winter said. "We're talking about nurses and doctors, people who have a lot of experience dealing with COVID and LGH is going to get rid of them during another COVID spike? That doesn't make sense."