Feds force the hand of hospitals rejecting vaccine mandates

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The number of U.S. hospitals requiring COVID-19 vaccination for employees continues to grow through individual organization and state mandates. President Joe Biden unveiled new vaccine mandates Sept. 9 as part of his administration's strategy to combat the pandemic, and organizations that have held off on mandates said they anticipate implementing requirements to comply. 

President Biden's six-pronged plan requires all employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their staff are fully vaccinated or undergo weekly COVID-19 testing, among other things. President Biden said he is also requiring that federal executive branch workers, as well as employees of contractors that do business with the federal government, be vaccinated, with limited medical and religious exemptions. 

Additionally, CMS will require COVID-19 vaccinations for more than 17 million healthcare workers at Medicare- and Medicaid-participating hospitals and other healthcare settings.

Pittsburgh-based UPMC, which has not yet mandated the vaccine, told Becker's the health system's leadership "is reviewing the recent announcement by the president and awaiting further guidance regarding implementation and details." 

"We believe everyone eligible should get the COVID-19 vaccine. Vaccination saves lives — it protects you, your loved ones, and our communities," the system said in a statement. 

Cleveland Clinic, a 24-hospital system, echoed UPMC, saying the COVID-19 vaccines "are safe and effective and are the best way to protect individuals from severe illness or death from the virus." 

Cleveland Clinic told Becker's it is waiting on more information about the federal government mandates and plans to comply with federal requirements. 

As of Sept. 10, nearly 80 percent of Cleveland Clinic employees had received their COVID-19 vaccine.

UPMC and Cleveland Clinic are not the only health systems reevaluating mandates. 

John Foren, a spokesperson for Lansing, Mich.-based Sparrow Health System, said the health system has not mandated vaccines yet but has strongly encouraged them. About 72 percent of Sparrow employees are vaccinated as of Sept. 13.

"We will, of course, follow any federal mandates that could impact Medicare/Medicaid services, but we are still working out the details," said Mr. Foren. 

In Florida, hospital officials were evaluating Sept. 10 how they will comply with President Biden's announcement, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Kena Lewis, a hospital spokesperson with Orlando Health, told the publication the health system "will be reviewing the new order once it becomes available" and "will continue to strongly encourage vaccinations for all team members and physicians at Orlando Health until we have a clearer understanding of the new requirements."

Altamonte Springs, Fla.-based AdventHealth was considering a mandate before President Biden's announcement and is also waiting for more details about the announcement, according to the Sentinel.

Jeff Grainger, a spokesperson for AdventHealth, told the newspaper: "Based on scientific evidence and what we see in our hospitals every day, COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective at reducing both the risk of becoming infected and spreading the infection to others. As part of our commitment to protecting the health and well-being of our team members, patients and communities, we strongly encourage all of our team members to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. We are waiting for details on how the federal vaccine mandate will be implemented."

Tampa General Hospital, BayCare Health System, a 15-hospital system based in Clearwater, Fla., and Nashville, Tenn.-based HCA Healthcare, which operates hospitals in Florida and nationwide, said in separate statements they will respond accordingly to President Biden's announcement as well, and have been strongly encouraging vaccines for workers. 

As of Sept. 13, the total number of hospitals mandating COVID-19 vaccination for their workforce had reached 2,545, or 41 percent of U.S. hospitals, compared to 1,850 as of Aug. 13, according to estimates from the American Hospital Association. The data includes facilities affected by state-level mandates, and is based on information from about 6,000 hospitals and publicly available information.

Spokesperson Colin Milligan told Becker's the association expects CMS to release regulations in October requiring vaccinations for workers in most healthcare settings that receive Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement. 

"We look forward to reviewing the details of those regulations when they are available," said Mr. Milligan.

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