by Debra Heine
Several large U.S. hospital systems have dropped their COVID-19 vaccine requirements for employees in the wake of a U.S. district court’s temporary halt of the Biden regime’s vaccine mandate for healthcare workers.
After months of protests, the mandate forced thousands of hospital employees to either resign, or be terminated because of their refusal to get vaccinated.
Louisiana-based federal Judge Terry Doughty issued a preliminary injunction on November 30, blocking the federal government from mandating the experimental injections for workers at Medicare or Medicaid-funded healthcare facilities in 40 states.
On Monday, a federal appeals court upheld a separate court order that blocked the White House’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for healthcare workers in 10 other states. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals denied the Biden administration’s request to lift a lower court’s injunction that blocked the mandate in Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.
Facing massive staff shortages, HCA Healthcare Inc., Tenet Healthcare Corp., as well as nonprofits AdventHealth and the Cleveland Clinic have all announced they are dropping the mandates, the Wall Street Journal reported, Monday.
Labor costs in the industry have soared, and hospitals struggled to retain enough nurses, technicians and even janitors to handle higher hospitalizations in recent months as the Delta variant raged. Vaccine mandates have been a factor constraining the supply of healthcare workers, according to hospital executives, public-health authorities and nursing groups.
Many hospitals already struggled to find workers, including nurses, before the pandemic. The shortages were compounded by burnout among many medical workers and the lure of high pay rates offered to nurses who travel to hot spots on short-term contracts.
As of September, a full 30 percent of workers at more than 2,000 hospitals across the country were unvaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)*.
“It’s been a mass exodus, and a lot of people in the healthcare industry are willing to go and shop around,” said Wade Symons, an employee-benefits lawyer and head of consulting firm Mercer’s U.S. regulatory practice. “If you get certain healthcare facilities that don’t require it, those could be a magnet for those people who don’t want the vaccine. They’ll probably have an easier time attracting labor.”
The mandate had required all workers at facilities that participate in Medicare and Medicaid to get second shots by Jan. 4. The American Hospital Association estimates that 42% of U.S. hospitals, some 2,640 facilities, have COVID-19 vaccine mandates in place.
The Cleveland Clinic is suspending vaccine requirements but adding safety measures.
“I don’t think the mandates were helpful and I think the court in Louisiana did everyone a service,” said Alan Levine, chief executive officer of Ballad Health, which runs 21 hospitals in Tennessee and Virginia.
Levine told the WSJ that his company has about 14,000 employees, 2,000 of whom are unvaccinated.
“That many people having to be terminated would have been devastating to our system,” Mr. Levine said.
HCA told employees in November that they had to get vaccinated by the Jan. 4 federal deadline or face termination. After the court halted the federal mandate, the company said it suspended its vaccine requirement, although it is still encouraging staffers to get the jab.
“We continue to strongly encourage our colleagues to be vaccinated as a critical step to protect individuals from the virus,” HCA spokesman Harlow Sumerford said. He told the WSJ that most of HCA’s roughly 275,000 employees are fully vaccinated.
AdventHealth and Tenet also said they would no longer require staffers to be vaccinated after the court decision. However, health workers in states with vaccine mandates must comply with those laws, HCA and Tenet said.
The Cleveland Clinic, which has 19 hospitals in Ohio and Florida and about 65,000 U.S. employees, and Utah hospital giant Intermountain Healthcare also said they would suspend vaccine requirements following the courts’ actions. The Cleveland Clinic said it would add safety measures, such as periodic testing for unvaccinated employees who care for patients. Intermountain said 98% of its workforce had complied with the federal mandate.
The WSJ reports that two large hospital systems—Kaiser Permanente and Northwell Health—have decided to stick with their vaccine mandates.
Kaiser Permanente, which runs 39 hospitals and hundreds of medical offices and employs nearly 210,000 people, reportedly gave employees until Dec. 1 to get vaccinated. On Wednesday, “the hospital system terminated 352 employees, and another 1,500 face termination in early January unless they become fully vaccinated or receive an exemption,” WSJ reported.
Northwell Health, New York state’s largest healthcare provider with 77,000 employees, has come out strong in favor of the mandate. Northwell told the WSJ that it terminated 1,400 employees in October for refusing to get vaccinated, and will not hire anyone who has not been vaccinated.
*Incredibly, as of November 2, more than 75 percent of employees at the CDC were working remotely, presumably because many of them were unvaccinated.
“I’ve been told that north of 75 percent of employees at CDC headquarters are working remotely,” Senator Bill Cassady (R-La.) told CDC Director Rochelle Walensky during a Senate hearing, last month. Cassady asked Walensky if that was correct, after asking her how many CDC staffers were vaccinated. Walensky claimed not to have those numbers.
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Debra Heine reports for American Greatness.
Photo “Nurse COVID Work Shift” by Fort Belvoir Community Hospital. CC BY-NC 2.0