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Tampa Bay hospitals prepared to meet federal COVID-19 vaccine requirements as penalties could start

a woman wearing a mask sits in a chair as a male doctor wearing a mask readies the syringe for her vaccination.
Daniel Wallace/Tampa General Hospital
Vanessa Arroyo, a Tampa General Hospital front-line nurse, gets her Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine on Monday Dec.14.

Hospitals in the region say most of their staff have received COVID-19 vaccines.

Hospitals had until Wednesday to show the federal government that all of their health workers are vaccinated against COVID-19 or have valid exemptions. Those who can't now face penalties, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Most Tampa Bay area hospitals say they're prepared.

The vast majority of staff at Sarasota Memorial Health Care System have received COVID vaccines, according to spokesperson Kim Savage. She said just 33 of their 8,000 employees had not turned in proof of vaccination or a religious or medical exemption request as of Wednesday morning.

"Our managers are working with their respective employees to discuss any specific issues delaying their paperwork and informing them of corrective steps HR will take next week if they do not meet the requirements," said Savage, adding that some of the exemptions involved staff recently infected with the virus.

Sarasota Memorial had also offered $500 incentives to staff who were fully vaccinated by Oct. 1, 2021.

"We respect our employees' individual beliefs and concerns and will continue working one-on-one to address vaccine myths and misinformation that may make some hesitant to get the vaccine," said Savage.

Ashley Jeffery, senior communications manager with AdventHealth's West Florida Division, said the health system has also strongly encouraged its staff members get the shots.

"The overwhelming majority of our team members have either received the vaccine or an exemption," she said last week.

"Team members who work in AdventHealth locations that are covered by the CMS mandate and are not compliant by the the CMS enforcement deadline will not be scheduled to work, and those who remain non-complaint 30 days later will not be able to continue employment," Jeffery added.

Staff at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg was already internally required to get COVID vaccines as part of a broader mandate issued by the Johns Hopkins Health System last summer. Spokesman H. Roy Adams said 99% of health system staff are fully vaccinated.

Tampa General Hospital did not provide the information we requested.

I cover health care for WUSF and the statewide journalism collaborative Health News Florida. I’m passionate about highlighting community efforts to improve the quality of care in our state and make it more accessible to all Floridians. I’m also committed to holding those in power accountable when they fail to prioritize the health needs of the people they serve.