Community Hospital Joins Lawsuit to Lift CMS Mandate Requiring Employees be Vaccinated
McCook, Neb.—Community Hospital, along with nine other Nebraska hospitals and hospitals from nine other states, drafted, signed and filed a declaration with a Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri last week.
This action was in response to a regulation issued by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) that requires the COVID-19 vaccination of staff at healthcare facilities. According to the CMS rule, facilities must develop a policy to require staff to receive the first dose of a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine or a one-dose COVID-19 vaccine by December 5. Staff must bae fully vaccinated, having received their second dose of a two-dose vaccine by January 4.
These regulations, derived from a Presidential Order signed by President Biden earlier this fall, affect seventeen different types of healthcare facilities in the United States that receive Medicare or Medicaid reimbursements, including Community Hospital.
The hospital sent a declaration, or signed affidavit, to the Federal District Court because of the negative effects the CMS mandate will have on hospitals, said Troy Bruntz, Community Hospital President & CEO. Bruntz, who also authored the declaration, said about 24 percent of the hospital’s 330 employees have not received, and are seriously considering not receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. “Losing that many employees, up to 78 staff members if they chose to not be vaccinated, and do not qualify for a medical or religious exemption, will be devastating to Community Hospital providing essential healthcare services in our area,” he said.
“This is not about the vaccine,” he said, “and it is not about politics. I, and our hospital leaders believe in the vaccine and have seen firsthand how it has reduced hospitalizations and deaths. But, we don’t have the luxury of worrying about the political aspects of this issue right now. We are focused on the practical ramifications of a mandate because of the staffing concerns we already have, and what we foresee as an explosion of the staffing issues this mandate could cause.”
He continued, “We have a hospital to run, and we cannot run it without staff.”
Bruntz explained that even before the vaccine mandate, it had been difficult to recruit staff – not just at Community Hospital – but across the US, due to a workforce shortage. Not related to the mandate, Community Hospital currently has 18 vacancies that have not been filled, including nine which provide direct patient care, he said. “Many of these positions, including registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, radiology and ultrasound technicians, have been posted for many months without adequate, if any, response,” he said.
Adding to that, patient transfers have been difficult because urban hospitals do not have beds available to take critically ill patients. “If patients must stay at Community Hospital to receive care, then the hospital cannot afford to lose more staff due to the mandate,” he said.
“If staff were to leave due to the vaccine mandate, and they have stated that was their intention,” he said, “we might be forced to limit or close some services so our essential services such as the emergency room and inpatient services could stay open and staffed.”
Community Hospital remains committed to the communities we serve,” he added. “We provide access to many medical services that allow the public to receive care close to home. We believe this regulation will not only affect our staffing numbers and ability to serve the public, but will also affect hundreds of hospitals across the nation.”
To clarify, Bruntz explained that three mandates were developed from President Biden’s Presidential Orders:
1. The CMS healthcare rule mentioned above that holds healthcare workers to a “higher standard.” Workers are not allowed to opt out of getting the vaccine by testing each week.
2. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)’s mandate affecting businesses of 100 employees or more. This mandate does not refer to, or include healthcare facilities and was recently “paused” due to a court stay.
3. A mandate requiring contractors and staff who work with the Federal government to be vaccinated.
Bruntz added that every Community Hospital employee is valued. “We respect our employees,” he said. “We also respect their right to make decisions about their own personal health. We understand the decision to receive the COVID-19 vaccine is personal. It has taken a lot of introspection and research. This is not an easy decision for them, and our thoughts and prayers are with each and every employee who is going through this.”