LIMA — Lima hospitals and nursing homes are preparing to comply with a federal mandate upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court last month requiring most health care workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by March 15.
The rule covers hospitals, nursing homes, hospices and other health care facilities that receive funding from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in exchange for accepting Medicaid and Medicare patients. Exemptions are allowed for medical or religious reasons.
“We’re working through the process with all of our associates to either complete their vaccine process or get an appropriate exemption,” said Dr. Matthew Owens, chief clinical officer for Mercy Health-St. Rita’s Medical Center.
Ohio is one of 24 states that have not yet required health care workers to be vaccinated.
CMS Is now requiring health care workers in those states to start their vaccines or apply for an exemption by Feb. 14.
Workers will then have until March 15 to finish their vaccine series or obtain an exemption, although some facilities like St. Rita’s have set later deadlines, as CMS enforcement is not set to begin immediately for facilities that are at least 80 percent compliant.
Lima hospitals previously suspended their vaccination mandates late last year as the U.S. Supreme Court reviewed a challenge to the CMS rule, but officials from St. Rita’s and Lima Memorial Health System say most of their associates have since been vaccinated or received an exemption.
“We’re still encouraging as many employees as are willing to get the vaccine,” said Dr. Dennis Morris, vice president and chief medical officer for Lima Memorial. “It’s readily available.”
Still, it’s unclear exactly how many health care workers have been vaccinated.
And the upcoming CMS deadlines have reignited concerns of a health care staffing crisis, as many medical workers have resigned from their jobs since the pandemic started.
But industry executives have found that compliance tends to increase as deadlines draw closer, said Gary Horning, vice president of communication and marketing for Otterbein Senior Life, parent company for Otterbein facilities in Cridersville and St. Marys.
Sixty-six percent of staff at Otterbein Cridersville have been vaccinated, while 50 percent of those at the St. Marys retirement community have done the same, according to federal Medicare data.
“One could leave health care and go to another industry,” Horning said. But the mandate’s design makes it harder for workers to leave one facility for another to avoid vaccination, he added. “So, we believe those numbers will go up exponentially as these dates get closer.”
Vaccination mandates for health care workers and private employers inspired rallies in Town Square last September. File image | Lima News
Mercy Health-St. Rita’s Medical Center is preparing to comply with a federal vaccination mandate for health care workers, which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in January.