On Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021 there was a demonstration against a COVID-19 vaccine mandate at Oak Hill Hospital. Eight non-employees showed up to show support for workers at the HCA facility who may not feel comfortable getting one of the COVID-19 vaccines.
One of the demonstrators was Jeanie. She said healthcare workers, “Shouldn’t have to make a decision between their job and vaccination.” Another demonstrator, Sandy, stated that she has two granddaughters who work for HCA as RNs and a niece who works as a nurse as well. One granddaughter works at Oak Hill Hospital. Her niece has been a nurse for 20 years and has worked at Bayonet Point Hospital for the last 15 years. She says that her granddaughters are concerned with the potential for adverse effects on a pregnancy.
Sandy remarked, “Hoping and praying that HCA will give people that option, you know. Hopefully, I mean, they should have to because of the laws that were just passed during the special session.”
There are several Biden Administration vaccine COVID-19 mandates relating to healthcare workers. There is a mandate from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), one from Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and an executive order that requires federal contractors to mandate the vaccine. This mandate is currently the subject of significant litigation including by Florida State Attorney Ashley Moody.
The CMS website states “The Biden-Harris Administration is requiring COVID-19 vaccination of eligible staff at health care facilities that participate in the Medicare and Medicaid programs. The emergency regulation issued by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) today protects those fighting this virus on the front lines while also delivering assurances to individuals and their families that they will be protected when seeking care.” This mandate is the subject of significant litigation.
The OSHA mandate requires companies with more than 100 employees to require that their workers get fully vaccinated or undergo weekly testing. OSHA was ordered to stop enforcing or implementing the mandate by a Federal Appeals Court. The litigation is ongoing.
The Federal Contractor Executive Order requiring employees working on federal contracts to be vaccinated was published September 9, 2021. This order is the subject of a number of court challenges by companies and states.
Oak Hill Hospital provided the following statement to Hernando Sun in regards to the vaccine mandate. “To date, HCA Healthcare has encouraged our colleagues to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and made vaccines readily available, but we have not mandated vaccination. Even though several states in which we operate have taken legislative action to limit vaccine mandates, we are required to comply with recently issued federal healthcare regulations through CMS and will require vaccination for our colleagues who are covered by the CMS mandate. More than 3 out of 4 of our colleagues are included in this category. If we do not comply with the CMS mandate, we will lose our ability to care for Medicare and Medicaid patients in the communities we serve.
“We have plans in place based on processes, best practices and knowledge gained from our operations in states that have already mandated vaccination. Since COVID-19 vaccines became available earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as our infectious disease experts, have been strongly encouraging vaccination as a critical step to protect individuals from the virus and the majority of HCA Healthcare colleagues have already been fully vaccinated. We are working with our colleagues to assist those that have not yet received the vaccine.”
HCA CEO Sam Hazan sent out a memo with the subject “Compliance with Federal Vaccine Mandate. An excerpt from this memo is included below.
“Up to this point, we have encouraged our colleagues to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and made vaccines readily available, but we have not mandated them. As you may know, the Biden administration recently issued regulations requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for the great majority of healthcare workers and workers in other industries. Given that development, HCA Healthcare will now require all colleagues who do not qualify for an exemption to have their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by December 5th and be fully vaccinated by January 4, 2022.
I understand, and appreciate, the implications this mandate may have for some, but I hope you understand our need to comply with federal healthcare regulations and our desire to keep all of our colleagues safe. In the coming days, you will receive more information about vaccine efficacy, vaccination clinics, possible exemptions, and how to provide proof of vaccination from your respective divisions.”
The State of Florida finished a special session last week to address federal vaccine mandates.
A press release from the Office of Governor Ron DeSantis stated “In Florida, effective immediately:
Private Employer COVID-19 vaccine mandates are prohibited.
- Employees can choose from numerous exemptions, including but not limited to, health or religious concerns; pregnancy or anticipated future pregnancy; and past recovery from COVID-19.
- Employees can choose to opt for periodic testing or PPE as an exemption.
- Employers must cover the costs of testing and PPE exemptions for employees.
Employers who violate these employee health protections will be fined.
- Small businesses (99 employees or less) will face $10,000 per employee violation.
- Medium and big businesses will face $50,000 per employee violation.
Government entities may not require COVID-19 vaccinations of anyone, including employees.
Educational institutions may not require students to be COVID-19 vaccinated.
School districts may not have school face mask policies.
School districts may not quarantine healthy students.
Students and parents may sue violating school districts and recover costs and attorney’s fees.”
The vaccine mandates are in flux, it is not clear which, if any of these rules will pass legal challenges. The exemptions are also uncertain as the Biden Administration only mentions medical and religious exemptions. The medical exemption requires that you are allergic to ingredients in the vaccine and the religious exemption requires a sincerely held religious belief. What defines a sincerely held religious belief is a bit murky. The state of Florida added an exemption for pregnancy, anticipated future pregnancy, and previous recovery from COVID-19. Florida also added exemptions for employees who agree to wear PPE and take employer paid for periodic tests.
The COVID-19 vaccine mandates put employers and employees in an uncertain situation. Many employers fear running afoul of the federal executive orders and regulation as well as the State of Florida’s legislation. The employees fear losing their jobs. There is currently a shortage of healthcare workers and these mandates will likely lead to a loss of more workers.