Local hospitals will comply with COVID-19 vaccine mandates, or risk losing Medicare and Medicaid patients - East Idaho News

Local hospitals will comply with COVID-19 vaccine mandates, or risk losing Medicare and Medicaid patients

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IDAHO FALLS — Local hospitals plan to comply with a federal health rule that requires healthcare workers get the COVID-19 vaccine.

On Nov. 4, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued an Interim Final Rule (IFR) “requiring COVID-19 vaccination of eligible staff at health care facilities that participate in the Medicare and Medicaid programs.”

The rule was created to protect healthcare workers and patients from the virus, according to CMS. With this rule, over 17 million health care workers across the country must be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4, 2022. The remedy for non-compliance is termination, CMS said.

Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center, Mountain View Hospital, Idaho Falls Community Hospital, Madison Memorial Hospital and Bingham Memorial Hospital will comply with the mandate, hospital spokespeople told EastIdahoNews.com.

“Since COVID-19 vaccines became available earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as our infectious disease experts, have been strongly encouraging vaccination as a critical step to protect individuals from the virus and the majority of HCA Healthcare colleagues have already been fully vaccinated. We are working with our colleagues to assist those that have not yet received the vaccine,” an HCA Healthcare representative told EastIdahoNews.com. HCA Healthcare operates EIRMC in Idaho Falls.

Eligible staff must receive the first dose of a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine or a one-dose COVID vaccine prior to providing any care, treatment or other services by Dec. 6, 2021, CMS explained.

“All eligible staff must have received the necessary shots to be fully vaccinated – either two doses of Pfizer or Moderna or one dose of Johnson & Johnson – by January 4, 2022,” CMS stated. “The regulation also provides for exemptions based on recognized medical conditions or religious beliefs, observances, or practices.”

Mountain View and Idaho Falls Community Hospital report that a majority of its team members have already got the COVID-19 vaccine, but spokeswoman Natalie Podgorski said, “To respect the privacy of our team, we cannot provide an exact percentage.”

In an email letter sent to its staff, Mountain View officials were apologetic and said they risk losing 40 percent of their patients if they did not comply with the mandate. “We cannot abandon our patients, so we must change our policy,” the email reads.

Madison Memorial spokesman Doug McBride did not say how many of its employees are vaccinated, but that the hospital is working through details of implementation.

In Blackfoot, Bingham Memorial spokesman Mark Baker said 75% or more of its employees are already vaccinated.

“While I have personally made the decision to be vaccinated, and believe it’s the most effective way to combat the COVID-19 virus, I also value and respect individual choice and had hoped other options would be available,” CEO Bingham Healthcare Jake Erickson said. “We have not previously required employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, nor did we intend to do so.”

The order that healthcare facilities are up against is separate from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) mandate that’s currently on hold in the federal court system.

“A lot of people assume CMS’ rule is the same as the OSHA one, but it’s actually much more strict,” Baker said. “CMS also has greater leverage over health care providers because over 50% of healthcare is paid for by government payers such as Medicare and Medicaid. They are essentially saying, ‘You do this or we will revoke our contract with you.'”

Earlier this week, Idaho Gov. Brad Little joined a multi-state lawsuit to challenge the requirement that healthcare workers be vaccinated against COVID-19. The lawsuit, which originated in Louisiana, includes a dozen states.

Idaho has also joined two other lawsuits opposing COVID-19 mandates. The first lawsuit opposed the mandate that federal contractors require vaccinations. The second lawsuit opposes the OSHA mandate that requires private companies with over 100 employees get their workers vaccinated or be tested weekly for COVID-19.

EastIdahoNews.com reached out to Portneuf Medical Center regarding the situation but did not hear back.