Vaccine mandate in effect for West Tennessee Healthcare employees

JACKSON, Tenn. — The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Secretary of Health and Human Services mandate that healthcare facilities participating in the Medicare and Medicaid programs require all employees, volunteers, contractors, and other workers to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

“We are now required by Medicare to mandate vaccinations for any staff who were covered by the policy,” said Amy Garner, Chief Compliance and Communications Officer for West Tennessee Healthcare. “There’s a whole list of facilities that are covered under the Medicare rules. So any employees, medical staff, members, students, volunteers, anybody that works in one of those covered facilities has to be vaccinated by a certain date.”

The first dose of either Pfizer or Moderna is due Thursday, and the second dose is due by February 28.

“We are now trying to comply with the Medicare rule, because if we don’t, that could compromise our ability to serve our communities and provide care to patients under the Medicare and Medicaid programs, because it is a condition of participation in those programs that we have to do this.”

There is a process in place where any covered staff can apply for either a religious exemption or a medical exemption.

Garner says about 70% of their employees are already vaccinated; however, they have already had several applications for exemptions as of Thursday morning.

“We will have to be in compliance with the CMS rule. And that could require termination of an employee, but Medicare is giving us some time to come into compliance. So they’re giving this in sort of a phased-in approach, but at some point, we will have to show that we are compliant and they require 100% compliance, which means that either employees have to be vaccinated or they must have some sort of exemption approved.”

Jackson-Madison County General Hospital hit a new peak for COVID patients this week with 199 patients in the hospital on Tuesday night. And the majority of those patients are not vaccinated.

With the omicron surge, Garner says they are concerned of the additional strain this could put on the hospital with the existing, over-worked low number of staff.

“We certainly do not want to lose a single employee because of the vaccine mandate. But we also have no choice but to comply with the Medicare rules. So we’re encouraging our employees to take steps to come into compliance, whether that means getting their vaccination or applying for some sort of exemption.”

Garner encourages the community to get vaccinated, as it is still our number one tool to fight the pandemic.

“We are encouraging everybody to be vaccinated, because we believe that that’s the right thing to do for the community. We know that even if you’re vaccinated, you could still get COVID. But the data has shown that when you’re vaccinated, your risk of severe illness and hospitalization is much less and that’s what we want.”

You can find COVID-19 vaccines or boosters available near you at this site.

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