WCHS approves vaccine mandate policy

By: 
Alexis Barker

Alexis Barker

NLJ News Editor

 

The Weston County Health Services board of trustees approved a vaccine mandate policy on Nov. 18, despite questions about their legal, moral and constitutional ability to
require employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. 

As previously reported, the board of trustees has been discussing the potential for a vaccine mandate since August, after the Biden Administration announced that the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services would be drafting the rule. 

Board secretary LeAnn Kenagy explained that the facility is being forced to comply with the mandate or risk losing Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance payments. 

“If we do that, we end up with self-pay and those are already in collections. If we go that route, we end up shutting down the hospital,” Kenagy said, noting that the closure would limit local access to health care and put several Manor residents in “dire” situations. 

CEO Maureen Cadwell previously reported that in 2020, the Manor alone received $3,154,556 in Medicaid funds. In total, she said, the district could lose roughly $15 million if it were to decide against enforcement of the mandate. 

On the other hand, Cadwell said, the facility could lose essential employees if the vaccine is required. 

“That is our dilemma; I am not for this mandate at all,” Kenagy said. “Under the circumstances, I think it is illegal, immoral and constitutionally wrong. We are violating rules, but we are being held hostage by this funding.” 

“The stance we are taking is, we are putting this (the policy) in place to get the employees’ options. If there is a stay on this rule, we will halt this process,” said Allison Gee, the hospital district’s attorney. “This is not being done voluntarily. If we want to keep the hospital open, we need
to proceed.” 

Gee explained that within the facility policy, and CMS’ vaccine rules, employees are allowed to request either a medical or religious exemption to the mandate. She added that the board needs to approve the policy early enough to give employees time to apply and have their exemptions approved before the Dec. 6 compliance date. 

According to Cadwell, employees will have until Dec. 1 under the policy to submit their exemption requests for committee approval. This, she said, will give employees who may have their exemptions denied time to decide what they want to do before the Dec. 6 requirement date. 

Gee explained that the policy is tailored to the exemptions and that
while CMS made the medical mandate specific, the religious exemption is more flexible. She said that a doctor must help to submit the medical exemption form. 

“The one that is much broader is the religious exemption. You have to swear that you have a religious problem with the vaccine and that you sincerely hold that belief,” Gee said, noting that it can’t be a political reason. 

“My advice to employees, even though I can’t give direct legal advice, is don’t put in the request that Biden is bad or I hate vaccines. … It needs to be along the lines that you don’t agree with taking the vaccine because my religion does not condone the use of fetal cells,” Gee said. 

Gee added that other exemptions could not be added to the policy, per CMS rules. 

Employees who do receive exemption approval, according to Gee, will be required to submit to antibody testing or provide proof of immunity. They will also be required to “wear personal protective equipment and a surgical mask covering the nose and mouth at all times while physically present in the building or home
where patients are treated or residents are housed.” 

Before the vote, trustee Jeff Virchow reminded the board that it does not “have time or a choice. We do this or we close next month.” 

“If there was an alternative, we would be discussing it,” Virchow said. 

As of Nov. 15, 67% of the district’s employees were vaccinated, according to Angie Phillips, the facility’s infection control nurse. The district employs approximately 200 people between the hospital, clinics and other operations. 

 

WCHS discusses ethics committee

The Weston County Health Services board of trustees tabled its discussion on forming an ethics committee during its Nov. 18 meeting. According to the National Library of Medicine, ethics committees help clinicians deal with the ethical challenges that may be raised during clinical practice. 

According to the hospital district’s attorney, Allison Gee, who said on Nov. 15 during a joint board of trustee and medical staff meeting, the committee would help to allocate resources, decide who receives care during shortages and help with hard situations. She noted that they are more common in larger facilities that may deal with potential mass casualty situations. 

The topic has been discussed previously, according to CEO Maureen Cadwell. She said that as far as she is aware, the facility has never had such a committee. 

“Critical access facilities, I don’t think they had to deal with them until now,” Cadwell said, noting that the pandemic has made the potential need for an ethics committee more apparent. 

“Ethics committees have been around for a long time. It is not a new concept,” board President Connie James said on Nov. 15. 

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