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Vaccines still being pushed

Mandate injunction impacts medical facilities

Trinity Health in Minot continues to work toward full vaccination of its employees following a federal court’s stay on the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for medical facilities and nursing homes in certain states, including North Dakota.

“We are still moving forward with, not a mandate, but a push to have a higher vaccine uptake,” said Randy Schwan, vice president of mission integration at Trinity. “People need to do what’s right for them, and we also believe that we will get higher compliance through good education and more confidence in the vaccine.”

Under the rule issued by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, employees of organizations receiving Medicaid and Medicare payments were required to have at least their first dose of vaccine by Dec. 6. Employees are to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4.

In a lawsuit brought by the Missouri attorney general, a U.S. district court on Nov. 29 suspended enforcement of the mandate for Missouri healthcare workers. The preliminary injunction also applies to the 10 states that joined Missouri’s lawsuit. Meanwhile, there are efforts by conservatives in the U.S. Senate to block funding for federal vaccine mandates.

Shelly Peterson, president of the North Dakota Long Term Care Association, said nursing homes have been on a roller coaster with vaccine rules. With the stay on the federal vaccine requirement, nursing homes fall under a state law passed by the North Dakota Legislature last month. The state law, which applies to employers, expands on religious and health exemptions to vaccine mandates to include moral and philosophical exemptions. Previous COVID-19 infections also would allow for a six-month exemption, and employees can opt for periodic COVID-19 testing instead of vaccination.

“It’s much harder to really have a mandate in place,” Peterson said. “For those that really felt this is the number one way to protect residents, there’s some frustration there.”

However, she added the stay was a relief to some nursing homes, particularly in rural areas, that fear potential staff losses of 20-30% if a mandate takes effect. Efforts to educate employees about the vaccines had started, but the federal mandate was imposed to take effect so quickly that some nursing homes were struggling, she said.

Most facilities are continuing to work toward voluntary vaccinations, Peterson said.

Schwan said Trinity had been moving toward full vaccination for several weeks, and employees have been either completing their vaccinations or applying for exemptions. He said he is unaware of any employees who have chosen to leave because of the federal vaccine mandate.

Trinity placed its mandate-related efforts on hold following the court stay. Because of the uncertainty at the federal level, Trinity is taking a wait-and-see approach, Schwan said. However, Trinity continues to encourage vaccinations and to process exemption requests to be able to move swiftly in event a mandate is reinstated, he said.

The CMS rule applied to all Trinity operations, with an exception for employees who work remotely with no patient contact, such as medical coders.

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