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Overcoming Vaccine Hesitancy: Andy Brailo with St. Luke’s University Health Network

Kara Mascitti, MD, medical director of healthcare epidemiology and infection prevention at St. Luke’s University Health Network, joins Premier’s Chief Customer Officer, Andy Brailo, for an episode of 3Q, diving into the St. Luke’s culture and answering three questions about how to overcome vaccine hesitancy.

Andy: Pop culture question. You can only pick one: David, Johnny, Alexis or Moira?

Kara: Hands down Moira, there’s no other choice. I’ve started trying to wear vests and broaches with my PJs to bed but somehow, it’s just not working that well. But anyway, she serves as an inspiration.

Andy: You know what, I’m going to have to second that and go with Moira, too. I might not be naming my wigs, I’m not there yet – but I think I’m going to have to start naming other personal items around the house.

So let’s give a little bit of background on you and St. Luke’s.

  • SLUHN was the winner the 2020 Premier Alliance Excellence Award, which is given to organizations that exemplifies what it means to be a trusted partner and a valued contributor to Premier’s mission.
  • Since then, among others, SLUHN has also achieved 5-star rating from CMS for several of the campuses and just recently was named to the IBM Watson 15 Top Health System and ranked no. 1 nationwide in the major teaching hospital category.

For you, what is it about the SLUHN culture that contributes to these incredible results for your community?

Kara: I think you’re very right; the St. Luke’s culture is very special. It derives from our mission and our vision, which from top down, is to achieve top decile performance in all categories. Our goal is to provide exceptional and cost-effective care to our patients and always with a smile.

That translates to our interactions with our patients as well as with each other. There’s really a sense of collaboration and team spirit, and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, that became apparent and was really crucial for us to be able to weather the storm of the past year.

Andy: Since the onset of the pandemic, St. Luke’s and specifically you took to social media to create informational videos. Why was it important for you to get these messages out there?

Kara: At the very beginning of the pandemic, there was a lot of uncertainty and fear. There was an overwhelming amount of information.

I thought it was really important to distill things down to our employees so they understood what was going on, they felt comfortable coming to work every day, and that I could provide a familiar, friendly face – even sometimes with a little bit of humor – who they could identify with and follow throughout the pandemic.

As we shifted to looking at vaccinations, I was able to leverage that position and help convince and make our employees feel comfortable about getting vaccinated. We also extended that social media presence to involve all sorts of individuals who got vaccinated – people of all ages, genders, races, colors, who were able to give testimonials about why they got vaccinated and serve as role models for all of our employees across the network as to why it was important to take this step.

Andy: You started talking about the vaccination process. From the healthcare perspective, what effect is vaccine hesitancy having on healthcare providers?

Kara: Healthcare providers are being affected by vaccine hesitancy for a number of reasons. Things have gotten better, but our numbers are still about the same levels they were at the beginning of the pandemic. I think it’s sad and frustrating for healthcare workers to know they are taking care of patients who are critical care, in the ICU, and even ultimately expiring, who, for almost 100 percent certain, would not be in that scenario if they had undergone vaccination.

We all wish everyone would take this wonderful opportunity to both protect themselves and the community. Our motto about the vaccine is this is really our best shot.

It’s not necessarily just a personal issue; getting vaccinated has so much impact on the safety and wellbeing of others in our community, especially those who are vulnerable. It’s something we wish everybody in the community would embrace as much as we did.

Andy: The argument is a pretty simple one: you’re not just vaccinating for yourself, but for the overall public good. And Premier has been hosting forums to share best practices from our members and help scale productive strategies.

And we’ve noticed major brands and retailers are attempting to address hesitancy, for example:

  • Krispy Kreme is offering a free donut a day to anyone who shows up with their vaccine card.
  • I saw the other day that some MLB teams are doing away with socially distanced seating, so vaccinated individuals can enjoy a baseball game like normal.
  • McDonald’s, Trader Joe’s and several others are giving employees time off and frankly some monetary compensation if they get vaccinated.

When you look at the big picture, where do rates stand at St. Luke’s and what tactics have been effective at SLUHN for the staff and the community?

Kara: As of the end of April, we had an 86 percent vaccination rate among our employees, and that’s something we’re very proud of. A really important thing for us was, from the level of our CEO, he clearly stated the goal that he wanted us to achieve 90%. We’re slowly inching there and that is our ultimate goal.

It’s important to understand what motivates people, and the motivation to get the vaccine is not one size fits all.

  • For some of us in healthcare, it’s a no-brainer for us to get the vaccine to protect ourselves and our communities.
  • For others, travel was a big thing, so very early on we relaxed some of the restrictions to have to quarantine and get tested after returning from travel for those that are vaccinated.
  • Just recently, our senior management implemented a financial reward system, so if you are fully vaccinated you are eligible to receive a monetary bonus at the end of the fiscal year.

An additional step our senior leadership took, much like you said some of these private sporting venues that have gone with this vaccine passport area: all of the SLUHN gyms no longer allow people to work out there unless they have proof of being fully vaccinated.

Andy: Well, and it goes without saying, we all know we’re not going to get rid of this pandemic if, as a society, we don’t act as a team. It’s going to take a healthy mix of community engagement, targeted messaging and incentives to help motivate the remaining population.

This has been a great conversation. Kara, thank you for taking the time to talk about vaccine hesitancy with us today.

Kara: Thank you for having me, and I’m looking forward to taking you up on that offer for that free bottle of wine when you come and visit.

Andy: You know what I think the internet cut out there, I thought you just said thank you and we’re square and we’re even.

Follow Andy on LinkedIn and check out the hashtag #3Qvideo for more of his insights and interviews on hot topics across healthcare.

Check out our vaccine hesitancy resources in the Premier Safety Institute.

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