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UPMC’s New CEO Says No Vaccine Mandates, Will Focus On Education

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

On today’s program: UPMC’s newly appointed president and CEO Leslie Davis talks about why the healthcare company is not currently requiring COVID-19 vaccines among employees, plans for expansion, and its work to pay a minimum of $15 an hour; and attorney Bill Maruca explains what is and is not a HIPAA violation, especially when it comes to asking about vaccination status.

Leslie Davis takes over as new president, CEO of UPMC
(0:00 - 15:04)

After 15 years as the president and CEO of UPMC health care system, Jeffrey Romoff is retiring. His successor, Leslie Davis, officially took over this past weekend.

Davis says her initial goals in the role are to continue growing the health care provider and insurer, and collaborating with the University of Pittsburgh, among other partners.

UPMC is the largest non-governmental employer in Pennsylvania, and largest employer in the Western part of the state, with 92,000 employees. However, it isn’trequiring employees be vaccinated against COVID-19, despite an increase in cases in Allegheny County.

“In terms of mandating vaccines, we’re really more focused on the employee engagement and the employee experience and how our employees feel about getting a vaccine,” says Davis. She says there’s no COVID-19 transmission from employees to patients due to masking and other safety measures. However, reporting earlier this year from 90.5 WESA, nurses at UPMC said there wasn’t adequate testing for staff who interacted with COVID-19 positive patients. “It’s much more important that we continue to vaccinate everyone, but specifically the general population,” says Davis.

In an earlier statement, before Davis took the helm, UPMC has said it “awaits more data on the efficacy of the vaccines in preventing transmission of COVID-19 before requiring the COVID-19 vaccine for employees.”

Davis is filling this role amidst a shift in city politics: Pittsburgh’s Democratic nominee for mayor Ed Gainey has been vocal about opposing UPMC’s tax-exempt status, which was the subject of a lawsuit dropped in 2014 between the healthcare provider and city. Gainey ran on the idea of UPMC “paying their fair share.”

Davis says as a nonprofit, the company is working to invest back into the community. “Six billion dollars has been invested over the last five years,” says Davis.

Health Care attorney clarifies what is and is not a violation of HIPAA
(15:07 - 22:30)

COVID-19 vaccinations are slowing down, and amid a surge in cases linked to the Delta Variant, some employers are mandating employees get vaccinated. Some restaurants are even asking guests to provide proof of vaccination.

There have been questions, and misunderstandings about what is and isn’t legal for an employer, healthcare provider or even individual to know about others’ vaccination status. For example, Republican Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia has said reporters asking about her vaccine status is a violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

“That’s absolutely wrong,” says Bill Maruca, an attorney at Fox Rothschild LLP and expert in health care laws, including HIPAA.

“If they were to ask her doctor if she was vaccinated, that would be covered by HIPAA and her doctor would not be permitted to reveal that information. … Asking her directly is not a HIPAA violation, but she doesn’t have to answer.”

Maruca says HIPAA only covers certain types of organizations, including doctors and health care providers, health insurance companies, and some employers that provide direct payment for health claims.

“Any provider, in fact any employer, is permitted to require those employees who have to work on site, in person, to be vaccinated so long as they honor certain types of exceptions,” says Maruca. He says despite this being legal, not many employers are mandating vaccines.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

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