In health care, addiction treatment leader Hazelden Betty Ford sets pace on employee vaccinations

Almost 90% of staff nationwide have received COVID-19 vaccine
Learn About Hazelden Betty Ford

CENTER CITY, Minn. (August 19, 2021) – As more businesses begin to require their employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 amid a new surge in infections, the nonprofit Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation—a national addiction treatment and mental health care leader that quietly announced its vaccine requirement to staff months ago—reported today that almost 90% of its employees are now vaccinated.

"As a healthcare organization that takes care of the most vulnerable, we have a duty to protect our patients and staff. It's our top priority," said Joseph Lee, MD, president and CEO of Hazelden Betty Ford, the nation's largest nonprofit system of addiction treatment, mental health care, recovery resources and related prevention and education services.

"Vaccinations are especially important to us because people with substance use disorders are at significantly higher risk of contracting COVID-19 and experiencing severe illness or dying as a result, and death rates are even higher for African Americans who have a substance use disorder and COVID-19," Dr. Lee continued. "Additionally, infections require contact tracing and additional testing, which can cause major disruptions to operations and patient care. For all these reasons, our vaccination requirement has been the most important step of many we have taken over the course of the pandemic to ensure our services are available to the growing number of people who need them."

Hazelden Betty Ford's employee vaccination rate is believed to be among the highest reported among health care organizations.

"We knew early on that having a vaccinated workforce would be essential, so we decided in May to require vaccinations, incentivize them with small prizes, listen to employee concerns, provide helpful information, establish a declination option, develop a documentation process, and communicate often and in a variety of ways about our progress," Dr. Lee said. "It has been a significant effort, and the approach has worked. We continue to hear gratitude from both patients and team members who appreciate the uncompromising commitment to safety and our mission."

Soledad Kern, a Hazelden Betty Ford prevention trainer, received a gift card in a drawing for which she was eligible because she had uploaded her vaccination documentation.

"I am so grateful to work for a company that was so proactive about the health and safety of the employees and patients during this past year and a half," Kern said. "As soon as I was eligible, I rushed out to find a vaccine location, and the process of uploading my vaccine proof was a breeze. It was such a nice surprise to also get a prize!"

Web and e-Marketing Production Specialist Dave Piluso added, "I'm grateful for the peace of mind I now have because I've received the vaccine. I'm also grateful to be a part of an organization whose foresight and agility have made it possible to continue providing care, even through the upheaval of the pandemic."

In addition to the 1,425 employees (88.3%) who are vaccinated, 160 (10%) have been exempted due to a medical or religious declination or full-time remote-work agreement. Though those employees will be restricted from attending in-person meetings, events and gatherings and from on-campus areas like cafeterias and gyms, Hazelden Betty Ford is working to find ways to accommodate them so they can continue working with minimal risk to others.

"We expect COVID-19 vaccinations will likely become an annual process for our employees, like flu shots," Dr. Lee said. "And, though we don't require patients to be vaccinated, we encourage it before they even come to campus and work with local public health partners to provide vaccination opportunities to our patients while they are with us.

"We also know vaccinations aren't enough," Dr. Lee added. "We still require masks. We test every patient before they admit and at least once after they've admitted, and we're also very focused on other precautions like washing hands frequently, physical distancing where possible, and staying home when sick. As a result, many of our patients say they feel safer in our care than anywhere else."

About the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation

The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation is a force of healing and hope for individuals, families and communities affected by addiction to alcohol and other drugs. As the nation's leading nonprofit provider of comprehensive inpatient and outpatient addiction and mental health care for adults and youth, the Foundation has treatment centers and telehealth services nationwide as well as a network of collaborators throughout health care. Through charitable support and a commitment to innovation, the Foundation is able to continually enhance care, research, programs and services, and help more people. With a legacy that began in 1949 and includes the 1982 founding of the Betty Ford Center, the Foundation today is committed to diversity, equity and inclusion in its services and throughout the organization, which also encompasses a graduate school of addiction studies, a publishing division, an addiction research center, recovery advocacy and thought leadership, professional and medical education programs, school-based prevention resources and a specialized program for children who grow up in families with addiction.