Lawmakers question Arkansas hospital's vaccination mandate

Little Rock-based University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and state lawmakers are at odds over a requirement for healthcare employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19, NBC affiliate KARK reported Nov. 17.

Hospital employees must be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4, in accordance with the CMS emergency regulation that requires vaccination for eligible staff at healthcare facilities that participate in Medicare or Medicaid. Employees may request a medical or religious exemption.

But some Arkansas lawmakers are pushing back on the mandate given legislation passed in April prohibiting state entities from enacting mandates.

State Sen. Bob Ballinger said he believes the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences mandate is premature as various lawsuits have been filed to block the CMS rule, according to KARK. Arkansas is among a coalition of 10 states that sued the federal government Nov. 10 over the mandate. A separate coalition of 12 states also filed a lawsuit on Nov. 15.

"Nobody wants them to go without Medicare funding, [and] we all would agree that that situation needs to get worked out. But at this point, there are lawsuits that are in the works … They need to sit and wait, comply with state law until we find out what's going on," Mr. Ballinger said, according to the news station.

State Sen. Trent Garner told Becker's Hospital Review he supports the state law, and while some lawmakers have discussed the idea of cutting state funding for University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, he is in favor of increasing funding if the hospital makes leadership changes and follows the state law.

In response to the discussions by lawmakers, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences said: "We are very grateful to the Arkansas General Assembly for their overwhelming support of UAMS and its statewide mission. We have seen this report but have not had conversations with legislators about ending our funding. We were given a very short timeline by CMS. We had to go ahead and act to ensure that on Jan. 5, we can continue to treat Medicare and Medicaid patients from every corner of the state, operate residency training programs in partnership with rural hospitals, and search for cures in our research laboratories."

Mr. Garner said the matter of state funding for University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences could be discussed during the 2022 fiscal session, which convenes in February.

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