‘Between a rock and a rock’

By: 
Alexis Barker

Alexis Barker

NLJ News Editor

 

As the Biden administration continues to roll out proposed COVID-19 vaccine mandates, the Weston County Health Services board of trustees is vigilant in keeping up-to-date on what may yet come and what the potential impacts on the local facilities could be. 

On Sept. 16, the board discussed what is known about the vaccine mandates with concerned members of the public who attended the meeting. Members of the public who spoke expressed the belief the hospital and clinics should not enforce the mandates because individuals should be able to make choices regarding their own health care. 

“Right now, there is no date. There is no real information,” CEO Maureen Cadwell said. “We heard last week that they have extended the mandate to all facilities that receive Medicare and Medicaid funding. We are trying to figure out what that means financially and staffing wise.” 

She noted that Weston County is not the only facility in the state facing the same concerns and that currently health care facilities across the state are on standby, waiting for the specifics on
the mandates. 

“Statewide, it is a concern. There isn’t a lot we can do besides wait for the regulations from CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services),” Cadwell said. 

At this time, 61% of Weston County Health Services’ employees have been fully vaccinated, according to Cadwell. The district employs approximately 200 people between the hospital, clinics and other operations. 

According to Cadwell, the district looks to lose roughly $15 million if it does not enforce the federal vaccine mandate by CMS. These reimbursements include costs at the hospital, nursing home and clinic services for people on Medicare and Medicaid. 

Charlie Turner, director of human resources for the district, said that the mandate is being considered legal as long as there are accommodations for religious and medical situations. 

“One of the few times I talked to our attorneys, they said they didn’t know. This is an unprecedented situation,” he said. 

Legally, the district could terminate employees that did not abide by the mandates. He noted that this is something the facilities must be prepared to do if the individual refuses to comply and does not qualify for the exemptions. 

“I want to know how to keep employees, what we can do to not lose them,” Turner said. “We definitely want to focus on the accommodations and the process we have to do.” 

According to Turner, there are several questions that accompany each of the accommodations for either medical or religious exemption from the vaccine requirements. He said that the facilities must be prepared to answer to CMS in these instances. 

“We are between a rock and a rock. We will lose employees if we do, and if we don’t, we lose money,” Cadwell said, adding that the facility would prefer to leave the choice to vaccinate up to the individual employee. 

“We do have to continue to provide education to the staff. It may be viewed, as we are constantly putting it out there, but we are required to do that,” Cadwell said. 

Several board members, including LeAnn Kenagy, Lisa Foster and Connie James, stated that they were against providing incentives to employees who receive the vaccine. Turner said that this is one thing health officials with the state are trying to push on facilities before the mandate is implemented. 

“I am hearing that is coercion,” James said. Cadwell, on the other hand, said that she has heard that employees would step up to get the vaccine if there was financial incentive. 

“I don’t think we should do a vaccine bonus; I firmly believe that,” Foster said, adding that she does believe that extra pay should be provided to those working through the most recent COVID-19 flare-up in the community. 

While the board did not approve a vaccine incentive, it did approve $3 an hour extra for staff, for a 10-week period. They also approved a $400 bonus to employees who pick up additional 8-hour shifts during that time. 

At this time, Cadwell said there is no release date for the mandates and that the facilities and their administrators are waiting for further direction as they continue to encourage employees to vaccinate. 

 

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