By Shari Harris, Publisher
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced on November 4 that the Biden-Harris Administration is requiring COVID vaccinations of eligible staff at health care facilities that participate in the Medicare and Medicaid programs, via an emergency regulation issued by CMS. On November 10, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt and Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson led a coalition of 10 states that challenged the CMS emergency regulation.
Over 17 million health care workers at approximately 76,000 providers of Medicare/Medicaid services are covered under the CMS emergency regulation nationwide. They must receive the first dose of a two-dose vaccine or a one-dose vaccine by December 6, 2021, unless they qualify for an exemption based on “certain allergies, recognized medical conditions or religious beliefs, observances, or practices.” If a two-shot vaccine is taken, the second dose must be administered by January 4, 2022.
Providers who are non-compliant will be cited and allowed an opportunity to become compliant before “additional actions” are taken by CMS.
Agencies included in the regulation include hospitals, hospices, long term care facilities, home health agencies, clinics, Rural Health Clinics/Federally Qualified Health Centers, and End-Stage Renal Disease Facilities (dialysis).
CMS states, “Unvaccinated staff pose both a direct and indirect threat to the very patients that they serve. Vaccines are a crucial scientific tool in preserving and restoring efficient operations across the nation’s health care system while protecting individuals. This new requirement presents an opportunity to continue driving down COVID-19 infections, stabilize the nation’s health care system, and ensure safety for anyone seeking care.”
CMS reports 40 percent of all U.S. hospitals have announced COVID vaccination requirements for their staff, and that these requirements have not led to widespread resignations. However, local health care providers are already reporting unfilled openings, and area long term care facilities (nursing homes) faced pre-pandemic staffing challenges.
CMS reports nursing home staff vaccination rates nationally have increased from 62 to 71 percent. Hickory Manor in Licking recently reported a staff vaccination rate of 47 percent, nearly equal to the rate of Texas County Memorial Hospital, which has 50 percent of staff vaccinated. Furthermore, long term care facilities are also required to meet minimal state staffing requirements, which regulate the minimum ratio of skilled staff per resident.
A significant loss of staff is catastrophic to any business, but a loss of health care providers is potentially catastrophic for every resident, patient, family member and co-worker who depend on that provider for a home, for health care, for care of a loved one, or for employment.
Attorney generals from Arkansas, Kansas, Iowa, Wyoming, Alaska, South Dakota, North Dakota and New Hampshire joined Missouri and Nebraska in the lawsuit filed against the CMS emergency regulation.
The lawsuit states: “The CMS vaccine mandate also threatens to exacerbate an alarming shortage of healthcare workers, particularly in rural communities, that has already reached a boiling point. Indeed, the circumstances in the Plaintiff States – facts that CMS, which skipped notice-and-comment rulemaking, did not fully consider – foreshadow an impending disaster in the healthcare industry. By ignoring the facts on the ground and unreasonably dismissing concerns about workforce shortages, the CMS vaccine mandate jeopardizes the healthcare interests of rural Americans.”
“Requiring healthcare workers to get a vaccination or face termination is unconstitutional and unlawful, and could exacerbate healthcare staffing shortages to the point of collapse, especially in Missouri’s rural areas,” said Attorney General Schmitt.
Healthcare providers, their employees, and many rural Missourians anxiously await the legal process as the deadline for the first vaccination looms near.