EMH rep comments on COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths, employee vaccine mandate

Ephraim McDowell Health Marketing and Public Relations Director Jeremy Cocanaugher on Friday provided comment on EMH hospitalizations according to vaccination status and the COVID-19 vaccine mandate in place for EMH employees.

He referenced data EMH released to Facebook on hospitalizations and deaths among those with COVID-19. On Friday, EMH released updated charts of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths by vaccination status, this time between the dates of March 1-Aug. 26. Similar charts were released the previous week.

One chart showed that 372 unvaccinated individuals had been hospitalized at EMH hospitals and of those, 31 died. By contrast, 35 vaccinated individuals had been hospitalized and of those, three died.

Another chart in the same post indicated that, relating to COVID-19 hospitalizations, of total hospitalizations, 87.3% were unvaccinated, 94.1% of ICU hospitalizations were unvaccinated, 85.2% of medical-surgical hospitalizations were unvaccinated and 83.3% of deaths were unvaccinated.

In the post, EMH announced that because of the limited time frame to gather and report data, EMH could not report data on a case-by-case basis at this time. “This includes, but is not limited to, age, previous health conditions, and vaccine brand for vaccinated death rate,” the post reads.

Cocanaugher said EMH will continue providing updated information to the public, hopefully on a weekly basis as it has for the past two weeks.

Cocanaugher also provided advice on how the public can learn accurate information on vaccines, for those who are hesitant or who are considering getting a vaccine.

He said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is an excellent source of information when it comes to booster shots, different vaccines available, myths and facts and possible side effects, among other information. People can also visit vaccine manufacturers’ websites for more information, he said.

He said he can’t speculate on what the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s recent approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine will mean in terms of attitude toward the vaccine, “But we can only hope that it does encourage people and helps people decide to get vaccinated who are not.”

Visitation guidelines in  EMH facilities can be found on EMH’s website, he said, and he encourages people to stay up-to-date on them, as they could potentially change as COVID-19 cases continue to surge across Kentucky.

“We have changed our visitation guidelines several times throughout the pandemic, and based upon what’s happening, it could possibly change in the future,” he said.

Later, he said, “Our associates are — they are, as everyone’s saying, healthcare heroes. And they have been fighting this battle for a long time, and they’re tired, but they are continuing to provide care to our patients. If numbers keep rising, you hear on the news … that there aren’t going to be enough beds or staff to care for sick people. We haven’t gotten to that point, and we hope we don’t, but that’s something that is very concerning.”

He said when it comes to the vaccine mandate for employees, he can’t speak for employees when it comes to how they have responded.

On Aug. 11 the Advocate-Messenger on amnews.com published a letter from EMH’s President and CEO Daniel E. McKay about the vaccine mandate.

In it, he wrote, “Things looked hopeful just a month ago after a large number of people received the COVID-19 vaccination. But this Delta variant began raging and is now targeting mainly those individuals who have not been vaccinated.”

He wrote that he understood that the vaccine is a “deeply personal and serious decision,” but putting safety and health first, EMH was requiring “all employees, employed medical staff, students and volunteers” have at least their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by Sept. 1.

“I recognize that some people are opposed to getting vaccinated, for one reason or another,” he wrote in the letter. “Already, we require our employees to receive an annual flu shot, and those who do not must wear a mask during flu season. For those employees who have medical or religious reasons not to receive the COVID-19 vaccination, we are requiring that they undergo regular COVID-19 testing and meet additional mask requirements.”

On Thursday, about 20 people gathered outside Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center to protest the vaccine mandate, and a private Facebook group called “EMH Rise Up!” which as of Monday afternoon has 318 members, was formed on Aug. 10 “for EMH employees to collectively develop a plan to help stop the mandate,” according to the about page of the group.

Cocanaugher emphasized that people can request exemptions — “There are certain exemptions — medical and religious,” he said.

Later, he said, “This is being handled on a case-by-case basis, working with our associates. We don’t want to lose anyone — we don’t.”