Ballad Health has instituted a voluntary “badge buddies” policy at their hospitals and clinics. This includes Greeneville Community Hospital.

“We are making blue badge buddies available to any team member who is vaccinated and wishes to wear one,” Ballad Senior Communications Manager Ashlea Ramey said, “It is voluntary.”

The blue “badge buddy” is a tag that hangs behind the name badge of Ballad employees. The blue tag signifies that the person wearing it has been fully vaccinated.

“Our policy, for as long as the OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard is in place, will be that any congregation of people in any setting including meetings, lunch, breaks, training, and others will require masking and social distancing if anyone in the group is not wearing a blue badge buddy,” Ramey said, “This is mandatory, and failure to follow the policy can result in disciplinary action.”

Under this current policy, all Ballad employees will still be required to wear a mask at all times regardless of their vaccination status. The only time a mask is optional is when all employees in an area have on a voluntary blue “badge buddy” that signifies they have been fully vaccinated.

All employees, both vaccinated and unvaccinated, must wear masks around patients and in public areas.

Ballad will also continue to require visitors to wear masks and pass a temperature screening. The guest limitation policy of allowing only two visitors in a facility per patient at a time will remain in place, as well.

This policy is slightly different than a previous version instituted in the second week July that lasted less than two weeks.

The previous version of the “badge buddies” policy involved a blue badge for those vaccinated and an orange badge for those who did not wish to disclose their vaccination status or who were unvaccinated.

According to Ballad, this policy was meant as a way for employees to be able to differentiate between who had been vaccinated and who had not, without requiring employees to disclose their vaccination status. It also helped Ballad comply with Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations.

The OSHA regulations require that employers be able to differentiate the vaccination status of health care employees for the purpose of protecting employees who are not vaccinated, or who are vaccinated but remain at risk.

These regulations have the strength of law and Ballad must comply with these regulations or face large fines, system officials say.

The previous “badge buddy” policy involving orange tags for those unvaccinated or unwilling to disclose their vaccination status was met with pushback by many Ballad employees who felt their personal rights were being violated. This led to the current modified policy.

The current policy still maintains compliance with OSHA standards and is geared at providing more personal privacy to Ballad employees who were concerned with the orange badges of the previous policy. Now only those who are vaccinated may voluntarily wear a blue badge while all other employees will wear no badge at all.

Many health care systems across the country have instituted a vaccine requirement for their employees. Ballad has stopped short of such a requirement, but the option is still on the table, according to Ballad CEO Alan Levine.

“We have a 63% employee vaccination rate in our system,” Levine said at a press conference Wednesday. “And we are still looking at requiring vaccination for workers. We are continually evaluating that step, but we are trying to respect the decisions of our employees.”

Levine says the decision to require vaccination for employees is difficult because it presents issues regardless of the course of action taken.

“We face two potential issues with that decision,” Levine said. “If we said today that we were making vaccination mandatory, we could risk losing nurses who do not wish to be vaccinated. However, if we do not require vaccination and we start to see team members getting exposed to COVID-19, getting sick and quarantining, we lose them as well. So this can go either way.”

For now, the current voluntary blue “badge buddy” policy will stay in place.

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