SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – October 15, 2021, is the deadline for CoxHealth employees to get vaccinated. When the healthcare provider announced this mandate over the summer, employees knew they had until today to make a decision between their job, or getting the vaccine. Friday is a day that could determine the future of many careers.

OzarksFirst spoke with the healthcare provider’s President and CEO Steve Edwards on Wednesday, October 13.

Edwards says coming into the day, he expects about 97 percent of his employees to be vaccinated. This leaves about three-to-four percent that will be unvaccinated. When asked about the void they might be left to fill, Edwards says his team will have people ready to step in and fill positions. He adds that CoxHealth has faced bigger problems before.

“We hired 457 people in the month of September,” Edwards said. “It’s a record month, even after announcing this, so we’re hiring about 100 people a week. So that keeps us going. But here’s a good reference point. In July, we had 537 employees on extended leave chiefly due to COVID. October, we have 21. There’s about a 500-employee difference right now just because of the lower COVID rates and the higher vaccination rates.”

Edwards says this was not a decision that was rushed into. Instead, CoxHealth did it based on science and followed the lead of other leading institutions.

“We waited until it was FDA approved,” Edwards said. “We tried to get as much education as we can. We tried to give our employees the amount of graces that we can. In the end, our value structure, the very first value in our value statement is safety: The safety of our employees, safety of our patients, safety of our community. We won’t waver from that.”

As for how CoxHealth will deal with possibly losing some of their employees due to non-compliance, Edwards says his company just set a monthly record for the number of employees hired in September. He says people are less likely to miss work with COVID-19 if everyone is vaccinated. For those who may disagree with this though, Edwards says there are opportunities elsewhere.

“There are employers whose value system may be better aligned for them,” Edwards said. “It’s probably better for both CoxHealth and for them to look for different employment. One of the things I value most about healthcare is that it’s a calling for people. It requires giving, sacrifice, and serving others. For some, this is inconsistent with some of their values. We respect that, and there are other places to work.”

If an employee isn’t vaccinated today, Edwards says they will have 30 days to change their mind. They would be put on unpaid leave and still have their benefits. Edwards also says some employees have medical or religious exemptions from receiving the shot.

OzarksFirst gave Edwards’ hospital a call on October 14 for the most up-to-date compliance numbers. We learned 95.45 percent of workers are in compliance with the mandate. CoxHealth says it expects that number to grow, as a vaccine clinic is currently being held for employees.