GUEST COLUMN: CMS mandate on COVID-19 vaccination for healthcare organizations

Last Updated on November 23, 2021 by Logansport Memorial Hospital

The following video update and guest column were shared by Logansport Memorial Hospital’s President and CEO, Perry Gay.

COVID-19 has impacted industries and individuals across the world for so long now. What started as an unforeseen and unprecedented pandemic in the early months of 2020 is still affecting so much of what we do and how we live our lives even today, as we prepare to enter into 2022. There are a lot of different opinions now circulating about what is best and what is right in the interest of safety and public health. No matter where one’s personal opinion falls on the variety of subjects surrounding COVID-19, there are now certain rules and mandates that have emerged to outline what will be
expected of healthcare organizations like Logansport Memorial Hospital as we go forward from here. I want to be transparent about what the future may hold for our community hospital with a new mandate now in place.

On November 4, 2021, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a mandate stating that healthcare facilities that do not fully vaccinate all eligible staff members by January 4, 2022 may face fines or termination of their Medicare or Medicaid contracts. CMS believes that by having all eligible staff members fully vaccinated against COVID-19 at healthcare facilities across the country, it will help to reduce staff quarantines and improve safety no matter where patients choose to seek necessary healthcare.

The mandate requires healthcare facilities to develop plans and processes to vaccinate all staff, provide opportunities for exemptions and accommodations as appropriate, and to track vaccination rates. By December 5, 2021, facilities must have all plans in place and healthcare workers must have received at least one vaccine dose.

This mandate emerged as an additional requirement to the initial Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) filed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on COVID-19 vaccination. The original ETS went into effect first, and issued guidelines for keeping employees safe from COVID-19 while at work, whether vaccinated or not. The revised ETS with the vaccination mandate became effective on November 5, 2021 and Logansport Memorial Hospital moved into internal planning discussions immediately for how to prepare for and accommodate our employees while meeting compliance with this rule. Discussions have continued and our plans are moving forward, because lawsuits filed against the OSHA ETS do not extend to or cover the CMS mandate with which we must comply.

I want to state that I personally support an individual’s freedom of choice. We live in a great country, where the freedom of choice is a right and a privilege that we all enjoy. My hope is that our employees would first choose to be vaccinated. But this vaccination mandate on healthcare facilities like ours overrules my personal beliefs and puts us in a position where compliance is not only necessary, but critical to remaining the community hospital that we have grown and strived to be. The vast majority of our reimbursement at the hospital comes from the federal government, including CMS. To lose that
reimbursement would mean losing the resources needed and the ability to provide healthcare that our community relies on having right here at home.

In looking at our options, the way forward is clear – we must comply with the mandate to avoid losing reimbursement that is needed for us to operate. What we also need to operate is the staff that we value and want to support in every possible way. It was our staff who carried us through the COVID-19 pandemic, and who bravely persevered in coming to work when our community and communities around us needed our services more than ever. That commitment is not dismissed but is unfortunately diminished by the mandate that we must now plan to follow. Our internal process for providing vaccination exemptions has been opened and has been made available to all employees, and we will honor all that we can within what is deemed allowable by the mandate. The safety of our patients is our highest priority, no matter what we face with a COVID pandemic or any other challenge that comes our way. Losing even one employee because of this mandate is detrimental not only to the organization, but also to our patients who depend on us for their healthcare. We are committed to doing all that we can to support our employees, and to ensure that our employee population remains intact. But we will follow and uphold the guidelines that are now issued by this mandate.

This ever-changing situation is one that we will continue to monitor and respond to, just as we have been doing with COVID-19 all along. You can trust that we will always put patient safety first, abide by the rule in providing high-quality healthcare, and that we will do what we can to retain and support our employees. Our future is firmly rooted in all of these things that make us strong and keep us ready to be the preferred healthcare partner for you and your family.