Beebe Healthcare CEO David Tam walks a tightrope.
The health care executive and Navy veteran gets high marks for his leadership at the coastal Sussex health care system. Seeing a crisis in the making, he drove to Lewes from San Diego before his official start date.
Challenges have included two big outbreaks and, more recently, an “epidemic of the unvaccinated” that, along with people delaying needed treatments, led to a suspension of elective surgeries that require an overnight hospital stay. Beebe announced late this afternoon, that elective surgeries will resume.
The situation is common in rural America. Even heavily vaccinated areas of New England are facing the same challenge.
Tam has been a vocal advocate of vaccinations but Beebe has stopped short of making shots mandatory.
The health care system has not helped its case by declining to disclose the percentage of its vaccinated workforce.
Beebe is not alone. At last report, hospitals based south of the C&D Canal have shied away from a mandate, despite a dismal level of vaccinations in portions of their territory. Beebe’s more affluent coastal stronghold is an exception.
Granted, hospitals in Kent and Sussex face a challenging environment with a vocal community of anti-vaxxers prone to believe and even spread misinformation.
Low vaccination rates among young people, high poverty rates, a lack of transportation, and staff shortages add up to a no-win situation in portions of the state.
In Tam’s case, the more affluent Coastal Sussex is more deeply divided than other downstate areas.
When ChristianaCare announced plans to locate a primary care practice next year in the former Pier One store on Coastal Highway near Rehoboth – the news did not get a cold shoulder one often sees when the new kid rides into town.
Mentioned more than once was the state’s largest health care system taking a stand and requiring Covid-19 shots for employees and staff.
When the dust settled after a couple of highly publicized protests, about 150 out of ChristianaCare’s workforce of 14,000 were shown the door.
This week, Tam, who is getting a lot of vaccine feedback and blowback announced that Beebe would require new hires to get shots. He also wrote a piece defending the policy, calling it a mandate, not an ultimatum.
On the not too distant horizon is a Biden Administration mandate that will require staff at health care facilities accepting federal funds for Medicare and Medicaid to be fully vaccinated.
Barring a successful national court challenge, a vaccine mandate will be out of Beebe’s hands and keep the health care system out of the line of fire.
For now, Tam and his downstate counterparts continue to tread lightly as Delaware barely makes it into the top 20 states when it comes to the percentage of vaccinated residents. – Doug Rainey, chief content officer.