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Sanford suspends just 82 for refusing COVID-19 vaccine; less than 1% of workforce

Sanford Health leaders in July had set Monday as the deadline for all of its 48,000 employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or be granted a medical or religious exemption to the vaccination. All those suspended have 60 days to comply with the health system's expectations or will be considered to have voluntarily resigned and be terminated from their jobs.

The new Sanford Medical Center in southwest Fargo. David Samson / The Forum
The new Sanford Medical Center in southwest Fargo. David Samson / The Forum
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Sanford Health has suspended 82 employees for refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or get an exemption from doing so, the Sioux Falls, South Dakota-based health system reported Monday, Nov. 1.

Sanford Health leaders in late July set Monday as the deadline for its 48,000 employees to be get vaccinated against COVID-19 or be granted a medical or religious exemption to the vaccination.

All those suspended have 60 days to comply with the health system's expectations or will be considered to have voluntarily resigned and be terminated from their jobs.

"Sanford Health was proud to be one of the first health care providers in the country to announce we would require all employees to get a COVID-19 vaccination to protect our patients and our people," Dr. Jeremy Cauwels, chief physician at Sanford Health, said in a statement. "We remain committed to doing all we can to ensure a safe care and work environment for our patients and employees. As a result of our high employee vaccination rate, we have also seen a decline in COVID-19 infections and sick leave among staff."

Sanford Health has major medical centers in Sioux Falls, Fargo and Bemidji, Minnesota, among its 46 medical centers, as well as 224 clinic locations and 200 Good Samaritan Society senior care facilities. Its workforce includes about 1,500 physicians and 8,700 registered nurses.

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The number of those suspended varies across Sanford's footprint, and totals less than 1% of its workforce, Sanford Health noted.

Suspension include:

  • 31 in Fargo
  • 28 in Sioux Falls
  • 16 in Bismarck
  • 7 in Bemidji

None of the 31 suspended in Sanford's Fargo region were physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners or certified registered nurse anesthetists, said Dr. Doug Griffin, Sanford Fargo vice president and medical officer, in a statement.
Asked to clarify how many medical or religious exemptions it had granted, Sanford Health spokesman Jon Berg didn't directly answer, stating, "Exemption data is a personnel matter."

Those granted an exemption will be required to comply with regular COVID-19 testing, he said.

The health system hasn't unilaterally granted any religious exemptions without being asked, and hasn't given employees who refuse to get vaccinated a choice to work remotely or other accommodations, Berg said.

Sanford Health also didn't directly answer a Forum News Service question on whether any exemption requests were denied.

"Consistent with applicable state and federal law, Sanford has a system in place to review and provide exemptions for critical medical conditions, or if employees demonstrate a sincerely held religious belief warranting the exemption," Berg said.

Jeremy Fugleberg is an editor who manages coverage of health (NewsMD), history and true crime (The Vault) for Forum News Service, the regional wire service of Forum Communications Co, and is a member of the company's Editorial Advisory Board.
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