Asheville – Dr. William Hathaway, Chief Medical Officer of Mission HCA, has previously defended his position of not requiring vaccinations for the staff at Mission Hospital. He maintained that staff already takes adequate preventive measures for avoiding the spread of all diseases. Furthermore, if he believed in the least, that staff members were putting patients or each other at risk, he would proactively intervene.
At the Buncombe County Commissioners’ most recent work session, Hathaway said he wished he could spend hours with the commissioners reviewing data and analysis as opposed to merely restating deeply entrenched positions. He added that hospital administrators are debating daily probabilities and trade-offs for two worst-case scenarios: either a lot of employees quitting or a lot of employees getting sick all the while trying for the plan that best benefits everybody.
Hathaway shared some elucidating statistics. Since the July 4th holiday, the number of COVID patients at Mission Hospital has risen sharply with 90% of them unvaccinated. Currently, the hospital has 50 patients in its intensive care unit, 40 of these patients are on ventilators. All told, 415 patients at Mission Hospital died of COVID. More poignant, not a single vaccinated person yet perished. Hathaway conceded that deaths among the vaccinated population, however, had occurred in other parts of the country.
Nationwide, the death rate among persons who have contracted COVID is 1.62%, which Hathaway said is ten times greater than the number of persons who would come down with the flu in the last decade. “This is not the flu. It’s far worse than the flu,” stressed Hathaway.
When Commissioner Al Whitesides asked about opportunity costs from COVID, Hathaway said at first people steered away from hospitals for non-COVID procedures because they weren’t allowed to go or they were fearful. Then, as soon as they began returning, hospitals were hit with the Delta-variant wave. Therefore, COVID has taken a “significant toll” on persons suffering from other conditions. Adding to the growing difficulties, North Carolina reports a 15,000 nurse workforce shortage, while those who haven’t ceased working are scrambling to fill in the gaps while undergoing emotional and physical burnout.
Commissioner Parker Sloan afterwards shared a resolution he hoped the commissioners would approve. It read, “WHEREAS, all the coronavirus vaccines currently in the United States have proven to be safe and effective, with over 200 million individuals receiving a shot. The vaccines are remarkably effective both protecting the individual and the broader community through the reduction of transmission and hospitalizations. On August 23, 2021 the FDA gave full approval for the Pfizer vaccine;
“WHEREAS, it is the civic and moral responsibility of every adult to protect children who are not yet vaccinated against COVID-19, as well as the responsibility of medical personnel to protect vulnerable patients, the community, and themselves through vaccination;
“WHEREAS, the American Hospital Association, American Medical Association, and the American Nurses’ Association support vaccination mandates of various forms for employees and medical personnel;
“WHEREAS, on August 12, 2021, the National Educators’ Association announced support for educators to receive the COVID-19 vaccine or submit to regular testing; and also
“WHEREAS, a recent survey from Willis Towers Watson found that 52% and growing of US employers will have a vaccine requirement in place by the fourth quarter of this year, which is a dramatic increase from the current 21% of employers in the United States.
“NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the Board of Commissioners of the County of Buncombe the following three items:
“That the board of commissioners hereby request Mission Hospital executives immediately identify their staff and contract staff who are not yet vaccinated and implement a vaccination requirement within the next month.”
The commissioners were short on time, so Sloan paraphrased the remainder. “And the same goes, each of these are identical, for Asheville City Schools and for Buncombe County Schools, faculty and staff as well.” Afterwards, he said there were a couple things he would like to add. First he wanted to, “implore all employees to follow suit, and second, he wanted to add AB Tech to the list.
“I’ll just describe my intent, which is not to force anyone to do anything, in terms of employers, nor is my intent to define for people what the definition of a vaccine mandate is. That comes in many different forms; there are various items, carrots and sticks, that people can use. My intent here is to tell and to ask certain employers that now is the time to try things to incentivize their employees to do this.”
At the commissioners’ formal meeting, they accepted County Manager Avril Pinder’s recommendation for county support for continuation of the state’s vaccine reward’s program. During the month of August, the state started offering $100 incentives for persons to get their first vaccination and $25 for their drivers. Funds were to be distributed via gift cards, but only to the patients and their drivers.
Pending the state’s discontinuation of the program, which still may be renewed, the county would purchase $100,000 worth of gift cards. It should be noted that gift cards are a notorious tool for money laundering. This was evidenced by former Buncombe County leaders, some of whom are still serving time. The county’s finance director, Don Warn, would be responsible for the purchase and oversight. Since the state did not authorize the award of gift cards to persons younger than 18, the commissioners will be trying to figure out how to lawfully get subsidies to that group as well.