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Idaho View: Saint Alphonsus makes the right call to require COVID-19 vaccines for its employees
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Idaho View

Idaho View: Saint Alphonsus makes the right call to require COVID-19 vaccines for its employees

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It only makes sense that Trinity Health, the parent company of Saint Alphonsus Health System, which is charged with public health, would announce that it’s requiring all of its employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine. The national health system is also requiring all of its contractors and those conducting business in its health care facilities to be vaccinated.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, who is running for governor on a platform opposing pandemic-related health measures, has already weighed in with a tweet, “Not on my watch!”

However, isn’t Trinity Health a private business? Isn’t it a conservative principle for the government to stay out of private business decisions?

The lieutenant governor’s “watch” is not dictating what a private business decides is a wise decision for its business, a lesson she has yet to learn. As acting governor in Gov. Brad Little’s absence in May, McGeachin signed an executive order banning mask mandates, but hospitals were exempt in that one.

(When Little returned to the state from a trip, he immediately rescinded McGeachin’s order, calling it “tyranny,” “an irresponsible, self-serving political stunt” and “an abuse of power.”)

During this year’s session, the Idaho House passed a bill saying employers and contractors doing business with the state cannot discriminate against unvaccinated people. Although the bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Priscilla Giddings, passed the House, 49-21, with several Republicans voting against it, it did not get a hearing in the Senate.

GOP Rep. Tammy Nichols also introduced a bill making it illegal to force or coerce someone to get a vaccine. That bill didn’t get a hearing this session.

McGeachin better get used to this, because more and more companies — especially in the health care industry — are going to start realizing that our low vaccination rates are not going to cut it, and they want to get back to business as usual. Without enough people vaccinated, those businesses will never be able to get back to normal, and the only way forward will be to require vaccinations.

It makes sense that a health care company, like Trinity and Saint Alphonsus, would help lead the way.

Not only does vaccination keep its employees healthy, but it keeps all of their patients healthy, too. That’s kind of important. And it means that there will be less chance for the Saint Alphonsus system to become overwhelmed.

“Getting the COVID vaccine is the right thing for every adult and child that qualifies,” Dr. Steven Nemerson, chief clinical officer for Saint Alphonsus Health System, said in a press release. “Saint Alphonsus Health System is proud to do its part in protecting our patients, their families, and our community by ensuring that all of our caregivers will be fully vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2, the harmful and potentially deadly virus that causes COVID-19.”

Saint Alphonsus also requires its employees to get a flu shot, according to Nemerson.

“Just as our colleagues are required to receive annual flu vaccines to work in our facilities, we know that vaccination is the single most effective tool in preventing the transmission of COVID, keeping our facilities COVID-free, and saving lives,” Nemerson said in the release.

Let’s remember that one of the biggest crises Idaho faced very early on in the coronavirus pandemic was a major outbreak in Sun Valley. The hospital there shut down, in part because of the overwhelming number of COVID-19 patients flooding in, but also because health care workers were getting sick, too, meaning not enough doctors and nurses to take care of patients — whether they had COVID-19 or not.

And that’s a key point: This is about more than just COVID-19. If there’s a significant outbreak among health care workers, patients seeking treatment for non-COVID-19 ailments, such as a heart attack, cancer or injuries from a car crash, might have a harder time getting medical help.

The vaccination rate in the United States is lagging, and Idaho is near the bottom of the barrel. With so many people here unvaccinated, that leaves the door open for the coronavirus and its growing variants to keep spreading throughout the community.

With low vaccination rates, some businesses are keeping their mask requirements in place, too, not knowing who’s vaccinated and who’s not. If we get that vaccination rate up, no more masks.

It’s a smart move by Trinity, one that will get us farther along the road to recovery.

Expect more announcements like this from private businesses making smart decisions for their businesses.

Statesman editorials are the unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Idaho Statesman’s editorial board. Board members are opinion editor Scott McIntosh, editor Chadd Cripe and newsroom editors Dana Oland and Jim Keyser and community members J.J. Saldaña and Christy Perry.

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