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Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health Announces Vaccine Mandate, With More N.H. Hospitals Likely To Follow

Picture of vaccine vial
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Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health is the state's largest private employer, with around 13,000 employees.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health announced today it will require employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The rule goes into effect on September 30. Employees can obtain an approved medical or religious exemption.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock CEO and President Joanne M. Conroy, MD, pointed to accelerating cases nationwide and in New Hampshire, fueled by the delta variant, as a driving force in the new requirement.

"As New Hampshire’s largest provider of care and largest private employer, we have a responsibility to set an example in the area of public health,” Conroy said in a statement.

For Annie Clark of Tuftonboro, the announcement couldn’t come soon enough. Clark, 66, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia last year. She goes to the facility once or twice a month for everything from blood tests to routine checkups with her doctor. Because of the medication she’s on, Clark says her doctor hasn’t cleared her yet to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Chemotherapy has also left her immunosuppressed.

During her visits, Clark has tried to ensure the staff in contact with her are vaccinated, something she says she’s not always been able to confirm.

“I didn’t realize how anxious I was feeling, going in there,” Clark says. “It hit me one day, that this is making me feel really, really unsafe.” The uncertainty left her concerned for her health and frustrated with the hospital’s leadership.

Currently, over 80 percent of Dartmouth-Hitchcock staff are vaccinated. Clark says in the fall, knowing all staff are vaccinated, will put her at ease.

While Dartmouth has publicly announced its vaccine requirement, similar mandates are likely to follow. The New Hampshire Hospital Association, of which all of the state’s 31 hospitals are members, announced support for vaccine requirements for healthcare workers.

Steve Ahnen, the Association’s president said in a statement to NHPR: “Given the scientific evidence of the safety and efficacy of vaccines, as well as their responsibility as public health leaders to be vaccinated, New Hampshire hospitals have adopted a statewide consensus policy endorsing mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for all hospital and health system employees in the best interest of the health and safety of patients and healthcare workers.”

Across the state, other hospitals are working out what exactly a vaccine mandate will look like, and when it should go into effect.

Solution Health, the parent organization of Elliot Health System and Southern New Hampshire Health System says discussions are taking place and once full approval of the COVID vaccine is granted by the FDA they are prepared to join other hospitals in the state in requiring vaccination.

Concord Hospital and Catholic Medical Center are still in the process of figuring out their approaches to staff vaccination.

HCA healthcare of which Memorial Hospital, Parkland Medical Center and Portsmouth Regional Hospital are a part says while vaccination is highly encouraged, staff are not required to be vaccinated for COVID-19 at this time, and did not indicate, in a statement NHPR received from Portsmouth Regional Hospital, what future plans may look like.

Editors note: The story has been updated to include plans from some of the state's hospitals.