FILE - Our Lady Of The Lake hospital

Our Lady Of The Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

(The Center Square) – One of the largest health care systems in Louisiana is telling its employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or face termination.

The Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System announced a vaccine mandate Tuesday and said the policy is necessary to combat Louisiana’s current coronavirus surge and lead by example.

“We must act now to protect each other from spreading the delta variant and protect vulnerable patients from exposure. Vaccines are the best means of accomplishing this and more important than ever as the lasting step to end this pandemic. We should not wait any longer,” the system said in a statement.

The health system, headquartered in Baton Rouge, says it serves half of Louisiana’s residents and extends to neighboring Mississippi’s largest metropolitan area. The system encompasses 10 hospitals and 10,827 full-time employees.

The vaccine mandate begins Aug. 15 and concludes Dec. 1. All employees, contractors, student clinicians and volunteers must get vaccinated during the period, if not already, or risk consequences.

Doctors, physician assistants and nurses must provide proof of vaccination by Oct. 31 or they will be suspended without pay. If not fully unvaccinated by Nov. 30, they will be fired.

Other health care staff have until Sept. 15 to prove their vaccination status to avoid unpaid suspension. Nov. 30 is the deadline to avoid termination.

Sixty-one percent of health workers in the system’s flagship hospital, Our Lady of the Lake in Baton Rouge, have been fully vaccinated, according to The Advocate.

Mayo Clinic Care-owned Baton Rouge General also is asking employees to become fully vaccinated but is not threatening staff with termination over a refusal to do so.

Baton Rouge General CEO Edgardo Tenreiro said Tuesday in a hospital-wide email that all employees and staff members are required to get fully vaccinated by Sept. 30 or complete a quarterly education program.

“This program was developed in collaboration with the Mayo Clinic, BRG physicians and infection control leaders and is designed to dispel the myths and misinformation that leads many unvaccinated people to overestimate the risks of the vaccine and underestimate the risks of COVID,” Tenreiro said, adding that 50% of BRG employees are vaccinated.

The Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System cited mandatory employee vaccinations in other states as additional justification for its new policy.

“Our health system is not alone in its decision to require a vaccine and joins many other healthcare organizations and expect others to follow. As a healthcare leader we believe we must take this step now for everyone’s safety and long-term community well-being,” Tuesday’s statement said.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry is opposed to vaccine mandates and has confronted the state’s university system over attempts to enforce student vaccinations on the grounds that COVID-19 vaccines lack full U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval.

Confronting private hospitals such as the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System is a different matter.

The organization’s announcement came amid record COVID-19 hospitalizations in Louisiana and on the heels of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ statewide mask mandate.

Upon issuing the executive order Monday, Edwards included support from the Louisiana Hospital Association.

"The Louisiana Hospital Association, along with many of our hospitals and health systems, continues to promote the use of mitigation measures, such as the use of face coverings indoors, social distancing, limiting the size of indoor gatherings, and most importantly, getting vaccinated," said Paul Salles, president and chief executive officer.

Staff Reporter

William Patrick is a regional reporter for The Center Square currently covering Louisiana. He previously covered the Florida Legislature and has a background in investigative journalism. William’s work has been widely published over his 10-year career.