Some hospitals revisit COVID-19 vaccination mandates as Supreme Court upholds CMS rule

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Some healthcare organizations had suspended their requirements as legal proceedings continued over CMS' COVID-19 vaccination mandate for healthcare workers. However, hospitals and health systems are reevaluating their policies after the Supreme Court upheld the CMS rule Jan. 13.

Cleveland Clinic said in a statement shared with Becker's Jan. 14 that it is requiring vaccinations after previously announcing Dec. 2, 2021, that it would pause implementation of its vaccination policy.

The health system is requiring employees and those who provide services with its facilities to receive their first dose of an mRNA vaccine or their one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine by Jan. 27 and the second vaccine by Feb. 28.

"Those who do not receive their vaccinations and who do not have an approved exemption will be placed on an unpaid leave of absence," the statement said.

"We are proud that the majority of our caregivers are already vaccinated, and we are encouraging those who are not yet vaccinated to receive their vaccine as quickly as possible."

University Hospitals, also based in Cleveland, indicated that it plans to comply, too.

"We believe, consistent with the scientific consensus, that COVID-19 vaccines and boosters are the most effective way to protect our caregivers, patients and community from severe illness resulting in hospitalization and death," the health system said in a statement shared with Becker's on Jan. 14. "The overwhelming majority of our caregivers are vaccinated, and we are grateful to them all for their service during this challenging time. We are reviewing the most recent ruling to ensure compliance with federal requirements."

Nashville, Tenn.-based HCA Healthcare, after announcing in December that it would pause its vaccination mandate — except for states in which it operates that have their own mandates — said in a Jan. 14 statement shared with Becker's that it plans to adhere to the CMS rule. The healthcare organization also said it has always encouraged its workers to get vaccinated and made shots readily available.

"To date, more than 90 percent of HCA Healthcare colleagues have been vaccinated against COVID-19 or have been approved for a vaccine exemption for medical or religious reasons," HCA said. "Given the recent Supreme Court ruling, we will implement, in accordance with the CMS mandate rules, the requirement to vaccinate our healthcare workers who are covered by this policy, unless they qualify for an exemption." 

Leaders at another for-profit hospital operator, Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare, had sent staff a letter Dec. 1, 2021, saying that, until further notice, they would not enforce the CMS rule for individuals working in its facilities but would continue to encourage vaccination and accept vaccination information and exemption requests. Tenet did not have an updated comment as of Jan. 14. 

Additionally, Chris Mitchell, president and CEO of the Iowa Hospital association, issued a statement after the Supreme Court decision, saying the group has "always believed that Iowa's hospitals and health systems are best positioned to implement policies or appropriate clinical responses in their communities and should be allowed to do so." But with the high court upholding federal requirements, the association will work with hospitals to achieve compliance, he said.

The CMS rule requires healthcare facilities participating in the Medicare and Medicaid programs to establish a policy ensuring eligible workers are fully vaccinated, with exemptions allowed based on religious beliefs or recognized medical conditions. 

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