Over the last few weeks multiple entities like hospital systems, government organizations, and many large corporations have mandated that their employees obtain the covid vaccination as a condition of employment. There are groups in support and in opposition of the mandate which creates a highly emotional and polarizing pulse across the country. Protestors to the vaccine mandate feel their personal liberties are being withheld while supporters feel the unvaccinated are putting public health at risk. The divisiveness of vaccinated and unvaccinated continues to rise causing tension among colleagues and leaders in the healthcare system, adding additional stress to all healthcare workers. Nurses and other healthcare workers have a natural passion that drives the work they do and are truly vested in their position with respect to the covid vaccine mandate. This passion has created an intensity of emotions around the topic of covid vaccine mandates thereby impacting patient care. Read what a nurse leader has experienced during the pandemic and continues to struggle with as covid vaccine mandates are on the rise.
Leadership Dilemma – Covid Vaccine Mandate
“I have been on the front lines during the pandemic, seen many people die alone, held i-pads for families saying their final goodbyes to a loved one, and worked relentless exhausting hours in dreadful conditions. Why? Because, we, nurses and leaders, commit wholeheartedly to the welfare of those under our care. I have felt the frustration of wanting to safely protect patients, my nurses, family, friends, neighbors, and community from this horrible disease. It is unimaginable how much stress this pandemic has caused to hospital systems, hospital resources, and healthcare workers’ mental well being. Sadly, it is not uncommon to see nurses crying because of the amount of death and sickness that surrounds them on a daily basis.
In December 2020 when I administered the first dose of the covid vaccine to my staff and colleagues, we all felt a sense of relief. For the first time in ten months it appeared that we may make it through this terrifying crisis. However, in the last few weeks we have seen a second wave of suffering caused by the coronavirus. This second wave has prompted many healthcare systems and large corporations to implement a covid vaccine mandate, including my hospital. Initially, I was happy to learn that my hospital was mandating the covid vaccine because the research shows that the vaccinated have better outcomes if they contract coronavirus compared to the unvaccinated.
As information spread throughout my hospital regarding covid vaccine mandates, I quickly realized that not all my staff would be willing to comply with the mandate. I find it hard to believe that anyone would refuse the vaccine, yet I have many amazing experienced staff members who are refusing. My inner challenge is that I love these nurses, I need these nurses, and they bring a level of experience we will not find anywhere else. In speaking with my staff, I have learned that vaccine mandate challengers feel that mandates infringe upon their freedom of choice, personal rights, and autonomy. Additionally, some staff feel that the risk of receiving the vaccine and encountering unknown side effects outweighs the risk associated with getting coronavirus.
The questions that keep me and many leaders up at night continue to grow as the weeks go on. How will we make it through the next week safely when I have so many staffing needs and no applicants? What will I do if my nurses and staff walk off the unit because they refuse the covid vaccine? What will I do when a patient refuses staff that are not vaccinated? How will I courageously lead my team when I feel they are so divided and we are supposed to be a working family? How do I help staff remember the “why” of what we do everyday to make the self-sacrifice worth the end result?”
– Labor and Delivery Manager & Synova Community Member
Leaders Navigating the Gauntlet: Vaccinated and Unvaccinated
Today’s leaders have a new challenge when it comes to covid vaccine mandates. Unfortunately, there is not an easy solution or manual providing direction on how leaders should continue to guide their teams through the never ending pandemic. Healthcare leaders are asked to support covid vaccine mandates by delivering the message, enforcing, and supporting staff as conflict arises. Supporting the message may be one of the most difficult things that leaders do especially if that means losing great nurses. As staff choses to leave the healthcare space because of the covid vaccine mandate it is important to remember that staff vaccination compliance affects patient safety and the overall well being of the community.
Managing the shrinking workforce creates unsafe staffing conditions and leaders are left to pick up the pieces by coordinating team experience levels, maintaining employee morale, and keeping teamwork at the forefront to provide quality patient care. The current staffing crisis is unlike anything the nursing profession has ever experienced, adding one more hardship to leaders’ plates. Connecting with other leaders can be a way to support one another, problem solve, learn from each other, provide feedback and share innovative ideas on how to navigate the current leadership challenges.
In all, leaders are called upon to encourage staff to receive the covid vaccine, respect those who refuse as it is their personal choice, maintain a unified team for safety and support of patients, enforce strict protective precautions to minimize spread, educate staff on vaccine effectiveness through current CDC data, and treat staff as professionals. Ultimately, there is no right or wrong. There is perspective, and it is leadership responsibility to respect the profession, care for patients, and have compassion for all. We are in this together, and together we must prevail.
ATTEND THE 25TH ANNIVERSARY NURSE LEADERSHIP FORUM
Join us at the Synova 25th Anniversary Nurse Leadership Forum in Tucson, Arizona from November 14-18, 2021, for additional ideas and guidance on alleviating mental fatigue and trauma caused by the pandemic.