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Far west Ky. hospitals complying with staff vaccination mandate

Government health officials are recommending a "pause" in vaccinations with the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.
Courtesy BioNTech
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UPDATE: An injunction from Louisiana District Court Judge Terry A. Doughty late Tuesday has effectively halted the start of President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate for healthcare workers in facilities participating in Medicare and Medicaid programs. Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron joined this suit, led by Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, last week. WKMS is reaching out to local healthcare facilities in the wake of this announcement. Updated coverage is forthcoming.

Healthcare facilities in Paducah, Murray and Mayfield are working to meet the deadline for their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a federally set deadline approaches.

The deadline for full vaccination — Jan. 4, 2022 — was set through a mandate from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), as it only affects facilities participating in those programs. Because of the recommended gap between doses of the FDA-approved two-shot vaccines, Moderna and Pfizer, employees must get their first dose by Dec. 6. Hospital employees opting for the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine will also need to have their vaccination by Dec. 6 in order to achieve inoculation by the deadline, according to the CMS.

“When health care staff cannot work because of illness or exposure to COVID-19, the strain on the health care system becomes more severe and further limits patient access to safe and essential care,” a CMS statement published in early November read. “The regulation will create a consistent standard within Medicare and Medicaid while giving patients assurance of the vaccination status of those delivering care.”

Each of the four major hospitals in far western Kentucky is moving forward in full compliance, representatives told WKMS in statements this week.

“The COVID-19 vaccine helps keep employees and patients safe and lessens the likelihood for serious illness and even hospitalization and supports our vision for wellness in our communities,” said Nanette Bentley, PR Director with Mercy Health Lourdes Hospital in Paducah. “We have strongly encouraged employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccines since they have become available and opened employee vaccine clinics in multiple locations across our health care system.

“We continue to see strong interest among employees to receive the vaccine, including employees who are voluntarily choosing to receive boosters when they are not currently required.”

Brooke Richardson with Jackson Purchase Medical Center in Mayfield assured that the hospital was “working diligently” to meet the deadline and added that “(they) know that the COVID-19 vaccine is our best defense against this virus and getting vaccinated supports (their) mission of Making Communities Healthier.”

Murray-Calloway County Hospital aims to comply as well, said CEO Jerry Penner, but not without complications. Penner does “anticipate losing some staff that refuse to get the COVID-19 vaccine for various reasons.” When asked for projections on the vaccination rate of MCCH’s staff or the projected employee loss due to the mandate, numbers were not available.

This regulation does provide for exemptions based on “recognized medical conditions or religious beliefs, observances, or practices” and the facilities administering them must create a plan for permitting exemptions in line with federal law. A White House report released in early November found vaccine mandates at hospitals “have not led to widespread resignations, as some predicted,” citing examples like St. Claire Healthcare in Morehead, which lost less than 4% of their 1,100 employees after instituting one.

A representative for Baptist Health Paducah told WKMS the entire Baptist Health system, which covers a number of cities across Kentucky and Indiana, has a 99.6% vaccination rate for its staff and “fewer than one-tenth of 1% of (their) total workforce – 10 persons – did not comply and have left Baptist Health” because of the mandate.

The CMS will check compliance through a survey and enforcement process. Providers and suppliers not meeting the requirements will be cited by a surveyor as non-compliant and have an opportunity to return to compliance before further actions. It will apply to around 76,000 healthcare providers and cover over 17 million workers nationwide.

This mandate also applies to hospices, ambulatory surgical centers, programs of all-inclusive care for the elderly, intermediate care facilities for individuals with intellectual disabilities, home health agencies, comprehensive outpatient rehabilitation facilities, critical access hospitals, clinics, community mental health centers, home infusion therapy suppliers, rural health clinics/federally qualified health centers and end-state renal disease facilities.

This mandate was partially blocked for a number of states, including Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas and seven other states, after a decision from a Missouri federal judge Monday.

The order from U.S. District Judge Matthew Schelp, an appointee of President Donald Trump, said “the public would suffer little, if any, harm from maintaining the 'status quo' through the litigation of this case."

This suit is one of many against the mandate. Republican Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron joined a similar one on Nov. 23. The suit Cameron is a party to was filed in Louisiana and includes 14 states.

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