New Hampshire's Portsmouth Regional Hospital shown in this August 2018 file photo. Credit: Courtesy of Seacoast Online

Hospitals across New Hampshire will require employees to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, officials said Tuesday.

The New Hampshire Hospital Association said it supports the move by its 30 member hospitals to optimize the safety of care for patients and to protect the lives of health care workers.

Steve Ahnen, the association’s president, said the pandemic has had a devastating impact not just on patients but hospital staff. Before vaccines were available, staff who were exposed or infected were unable to work, harming the ability of hospitals to staff and care for all patients.

“Many regional and national organizations representing medical professionals have recently stated their support for mandated COVID-19 vaccines for healthcare workers to control the spread of this deadly disease, especially within healthcare facilities,” he said in a statement. “This is absolutely something we support in an effort to protect both our patients and our employees from COVID-19.”

At the state’s largest health care system, the decision means all 13,000 employees at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health must show proof of vaccination or documentation about exemptions by Sept. 30. The health system includes Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, smaller hospitals in New Hampshire and Vermont, visiting nurse and hospice agencies and 24 clinics in both states.

“While the great majority of our employees have been vaccinated, some of our colleagues remain unvaccinated. We take very seriously our obligation to protect the health and well-being of our patients and their families, our community and one another,” Dr. Joanne Conroy, the health system’s CEO, said at a recent town hall meeting for employees. “As New Hampshire’s largest provider of health care and the state’s largest private employer, we must lead by example in the arena of public health.”

Story by Holly Ramer, Associated Press