Russell County Hospital CEO Patrick Branco said the hospital will comply with a vaccine mandate from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that will require hospital employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by December.
CMS implemented a mandate that would require workers at healthcare facilities that receive CMS funds to be vaccinated by Dec. 4.
Unlike the mandate that affects businesses with 100+ employees that allows for weekly testing and mask wearing, the mandate from CMS requires vaccination.
Branco said exemptions are permitted for religious or health reasons, but the health exemptions have gotten stricter. He said a doctor’s note now is not totally sufficient, but it must follow Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines.
For Branco, he said the hospital could face dire consequences if they don’t comply with the mandate, like losing Medicaid and Medicare funds.
“That would close the hospital,” Branco said. “If we lost those funds, there is almost no recovery from that. With that said, we want to be here to continue serving the community, so we’re going to follow these guidelines.”
Branco said those who choose to not be vaccinated without a medical or religious exemption would be considered a voluntary resignation.
“I don’t believe in terminating employees who were heroes last year, and this year, because of a choice they made, I have to fire them,” Branco said. “It might be semantics, but I believe it’s an actual statement. I believe when they pass the deadline, if they don’t have an exemption and aren’t vaccinated, it’s considered a voluntary resignation. They had the choice, they made a choice, and they’re living with the decision. I have the highest degree of respect for everyone working here, and I hope to never intrude on their personal choice.”
Branco estimated that roughly 70-75 percent of the hospital’s employees are vaccinated, leaving about 25-30 percent unvaccinated.
Right now, the mandate is being challenged in court, but Branco said the hospital has to take steps planning for it to be implemented with the Dec. 4 deadline looming in almost three weeks.
Ultimately, he hopes that the mandate is changed to provide alternative options for unvaccinated workers that still protects the hospital’s patients and staff.