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December 14, 2021

Cleveland Clinic and Intermountain have dropped vaccine mandates

Daily Briefing

    After a federal judge temporarily halted CMS' vaccine requirements for health care workers, several major health systems have dropped their own mandates, some citing difficulties retaining workers, Robbie Whelan and Melanie Evans report for the Wall Street Journal.

    Resource library: How health care organizations can navigate vaccine mandates and other issues

    Some hospitals drop their Covid-19 vaccine mandates

    In November, a federal judge issued a nationwide injunction, blocking CMS' mandate requiring workers in most health care settings participating in Medicare and Medicaid to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 by Jan. 4.

    Following this injunction, some hospitals—including HCA Healthcare, Tenet Healthcare, AdventHealth, Intermountain Healthcare, and Cleveland Clinic—suspended their own vaccine mandates, which had been enacted to comply with CMS' requirements, Whelan and Evans report. Cleveland Clinic said it would add safety measures, such as periodic testing for unvaccinated employees who care for patients, and Intermountain Healthcare noted 98% of its workforce has already complied with the vaccine mandate.

    According to several hospital executives, public health authorities, and nursing groups, vaccine mandates have made it more difficult for many organizations to hire and retain health care workers.

    "I don't think the mandates were helpful and I think the court [that halted CMS' mandate] did everyone a service," said Alan Levine, CEO of Ballad Health. Around 2,000 of Ballad's 14,000 employees are still unvaccinated or have not requested an exemption, Levine said, and losing that many workers "would have been devastating to our system."

    As of September, around 30% of workers at more than 2,000 hospitals across the country were unvaccinated, according to CDC. In addition, thousands of nurses and other health care workers have already been fired or chosen to resign instead of getting vaccinated against Covid-19, Whelan and Evans report.

    "It's been a mass exodus, and a lot of people in the health care industry are willing to go and shop around," said Wade Symons, an employee-benefits lawyer and head of Mercer's regulatory practice in the United States. "If you get certain health care facilities that don't require it, those could be a magnet for those people who don't want the vaccine. They'll probably have an easier time attracting labor."

    Other hospitals keep their vaccine mandates in place

    However, other large hospitals have decided to keep their vaccine mandates in place, Whelan and Evans report, even as they have had to terminate some employees.

    For example, Kaiser Permanente, which employs around 210,000 workers in California and other states, said it was keeping its vaccine mandate. Under the mandates, workers were required to be vaccinated against Covid-19 by Dec. 1, and 98% of the health system's staff have been vaccinated. So far, Kaiser has terminated 352 employees over its mandate, and another 1,500 will face termination in January unless they are fully vaccinated or receive an exemption.

    Similarly, Northwell Health, which is the largest health care provider in New York with 77,000 employees, said its vaccine mandate would remain in place. Previously, the health system in October terminated 1,400 workers who had refused to be vaccinated, Whelan and Evans report.

    "We will not hire anyone who has not been vaccinated," a Northwell spokesperson said.

    Notably, early mandate compliance numbers suggested the vaccine requirements were working with minimal staff resignation or termination. Additionally, some health leaders believe vaccine mandates will provide long-term staffing advantages.

    According to Stephen Jones, president and CEO of Inova Health System, the organization's vaccine mandate could help with hiring and recruitment. "We're worried about it being a staffing challenge, maybe, in the short term. I think that it's actually going to be an advantage for us, that people will want to work around others who are vaccinated," he said.  (Whelan/Evans, Wall Street Journal, 12/13)

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