Washington Examiner | 15 Dec 2021
Major hospital systems across the country are quietly scrapping their vaccine mandates amid worker shortages and growing confusion as to whether such requirements on the national level are even legal.
Two separate federal courts found in late November that President Joe Biden’s attempt to impose a nationwide vaccine requirement for healthcare workers likely exceeded the authority of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which were meant to implement the rule. That mandate is currently paused, along with two others the Biden administration had hoped to impose at the federal level.
A number of major hospital companies quickly moved to reverse the mandates they had announced in anticipation of the Biden administration rule coming into effect on schedule
The rule changes will affect hundreds of thousands of healthcare workers.
Cleveland Clinic employees who choose not to get vaccinated will now have the option to rely on “additional safety requirements” in lieu of the shot, according to the company, including “periodic testing.”
HCA Healthcare, which operates more than 180 hospitals in 20 states, froze its vaccine mandate for employees in states without individual requirements shortly after the ruling against the CMMS mandate.
The CEO of Ballad Health, a Tennessee-based hospital system with roughly 14,000 employees, said the effects of the mandate could have been “devastating” to the company had the federal government implemented it on schedule. Roughly 2,000 of Ballad’s employees remained unvaccinated.
Ballad’s CEO warned over the summer that a mandate could prevent the system from having enough workers to meet basic needs like staffing the emergency room.
Officials at the Florida-based company testified before the state Legislature in September that staffing shortages had begun to create dire circumstances in their hospitals, particularly among nurses, many of whom have been forced to take on additional patients.
InterMountain Healthcare, a hospital system with nearly 40,000 workers, joined other hospital organizations in stopping the implementation of its vaccine mandate in early December, when it said 95% of its workforce had taken the shot.
That could have left hundreds, or potentially thousands, of its workers vulnerable to disciplinary action if not for the court rulings that have given strained healthcare systems breathing room.
Hospitals aren’t the only organizations backing away from vaccine mandates for fear of creating or worsening staff shortages.
Southwest Airlines in late October abandoned a plan to place unvaccinated employees on leave without pay, even before the Biden administration’s federal contractor vaccine mandate was paused by the courts.
American Airlines similarly delayed enforcing its vaccine mandate after the Biden administration first pushed back its deadline, which has since been thrown into even more uncertainty thanks to legal losses.
The Richmond School Board voted in November to stop disciplining school employees who refused the vaccine after facing dozens of resignations over the mandate.
In some places where vaccine mandates were allowed to proceed despite operational concerns, difficulties have ensued.
The Seattle Police Department, already hampered by a severe officer shortage, was forced to place 100 employees on leave by November after the city’s vaccination requirements took effect.
The vacancies, 93 of which were among sworn officers, triggered an emergency staffing plan on the police force that the department warned could create “some impacts to our service levels.”
After significant numbers of New York City teachers and other workers declined to get vaccinated despite announced mandates, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced he would pay holdouts $500 to take the shot, which teachers union leaders said was unfair to those who followed the rules initially.