How NY’s largest hospital system tackled its vaccine strategy

As New York state’s largest healthcare provider–and largest private employer–Northwell Health has been working around the clock to educate and distribute the COVID-19 vaccine to its 74,000 employees as well as community members.

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Maxine Carrington

It’s a multi-faceted task that has taken center stage for the health network’s HR teams, says Maxine Carrington, deputy CHRO, who will share insights about the organization’s learnings over the past year at next month’s Spring HR Tech.

When it comes to the vaccine, one of the most valuable lessons was preparation, she says. When it became clear vaccines would soon be approved, the organization rolled out a sentiment survey to assess what team members thought of getting the vaccine–why they would or wouldn’t get it, who or what would influence that decision, what kinds of information they would want to help them make a decision.

“We had that going in, which really helped inform our strategy,” Carrington says.

The infrastructure of the health system–which is home to 23 hospitals and 700 outpatient centers–was also important. HR team members have worked closely with the employee health services team to identify points of distribution throughout the sites as well as to tap into emergency management resources. The HR technology team also partnered with employee health to develop and roll out an online platform through which employees can register for vaccine appointments.

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HR staff has helped man distribution sites, as well as canvas the health centers with iPads to show team members in person how to register and to offer additional education. The organization brought in extra help through its temporary staffing agency, Northwell FlexStaff, which has also been key to staffing distribution sites where members of local communities can get vaccinated.

Lately, the bulk of HR’s focus has been on a vaccine influencer campaign, designed to reach and educate team members who are hesitant about being inoculated. So far, 55% of the employee population–which includes volunteer physicians, vendors and more–have been vaccinated. Looking to previous learnings about the flu vaccine, Carrington says, information was–and will be–vital to reaching those not yet inoculated.

As part of its messaging, the campaign focuses on access: how to make appointments, how to work your hospital schedule around appointments, where to go, what to do to get ready, etc. Education about the vaccine itself is another prong. The HR team rolled out Q&A sessions staffed by two clinicians who conduct a five-minute presentation, and then team members can dial in with questions. Its Ask the Expert series is a live, on-site presentation that focuses on vaccine education, and Northwell recently also released a “myth-busting” document comparing myths and facts about the vaccine.

The organization is holding sessions focused on Black and brown communities, which have disproportionately expressed vaccine hesitancy, stemming from historical reasons, Carrington notes. It is also enlisting its business employee resource groups to help target specific populations; they are part of the campaign task force and are also offering translation services.

The final aspect of the campaign is recognition. When they get vaccinated, team members receive a customized “badge buddy” signifying they’ve been inoculated; wearing it around the health centers and seeing others with the same badge can instill pride, Carrington says. The organization is in the process of setting up Facebook profile frames that those who have gotten vaccinated can use. While it’s not offering incentives for employees to get vaccinated, Northwell does run frequent raffles for employees who share their “my why” stories about what motivated them to get the vaccine.

“We’re using a host of tactics intended to educate and influence people,” Carrington says. “Our goal is to help people make informed decisions. We’re not trying to pressure anyone but rather make sure they’re making a decision that’s based on fact, not fiction.”

Related: Hear more from Carrington next month during this Spring HR Tech panel discussion. Register here.

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Jen Colletta
Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at [email protected].