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Centra requires vaccination for employees

As local COVID-19 cases surge and hospitals see large increases in virus patients and deaths, Centra Health has made the decision to require vaccination of all 7,600 of its caregivers.

During a press conference called for Monday, Aug. 16, Centra officials updated listeners on current patient numbers for both Lynchburg General Hospital and Centra Southside Community Hospital in Farmville.

Centra Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Chris Lewis stated that as of Monday, Lynchburg General had 45 COVID-19 patients in its care, including 30 individuals on the COVID care floor and 15 virus patients in the intensive care unit (ICU). Of those 15 ICU patients, 14 were on ventilators.

Southside, Lewis noted, had to expand its COVID unit this week in order to accommodate an increase in patients. The hospital in Farmville was up to nine COVID patients as of Monday morning.

The health care provider has seen a large increase in deaths this week, with eight COVID-19 patients passing in the last seven days alone. Of the eight fatalities, two of the patients were in their 40s, four patients were in their 50s and two were in their 70s. Lewis said this is a significant increase in deaths for the hospital, and fatalities are trending on the younger side.

During the press conference, Lewis noted Centra is experiencing a stressing of its system due to this new wave of cases, particularly in the hospital’s critical care capacity.

Currently, Lynchburg General’s COVID-19 ICU can treat up to 18 patients at once, but after this number is reached, the hospital will need to stretch the unit out into other ICUs in order to provide critical care to more patients. This can take beds away from other critically ill patients.

Southside, he added, has the ability to expand its COVID floor up to a capacity of 16, but after that number, the hospital would also need to take beds from general use in order to accommodate further coronavirus patients.

With numbers headed in the wrong direction, Centra joined other health care facilities across the state and nation Monday by announcing plans to require vaccination against the virus for all employees.

In a press release distributed Aug. 16, officials noted all 7,600 of Centra’s caregivers, including medical staff and contractors, must receive their first dose by October 1. The hospital will require proof of full vaccination by Nov. 1.

While Centra will provide exemptions for staff with certain religious beliefs or medical conditions, all others will have their employment terminated following a short grace period.

Caregivers may receive their COVID vaccine through onsite Centra clinics, personal providers, local pharmacies or facilities of their choice.

During Monday’s press conference, Centra Senior Vice President and Chief Transformation Officer Michael Elliott said the vaccination requirement, which will include not only regular staff but also volunteers, students, contractors and vendors, comes as officials anticipate a rough next couple of months as the delta variant continues to impact the nation.

“We’re here to heal,” Elliot said, adding the requirement is in the name of protecting patients.

“If we’re not going to lead in the communities that we serve around this health initiative, who is?”