Vaccine mandate not in force yet

Hospitals wait for guidance on Biden’s marching orders

Rumors and miscommunication from as far up as the White House have left confusion on if and when President Joe Biden’s mandate that health workers must be vaccinated if they work at health facilities that participate in Medicare and Medicaid will begin.

The topic was addressed during Monday’s COVID Zoom call with local health providers who are already dealing with a crisis in staffing as the most recent COVID surge continues to suck away resources.

Last week Biden laid out a plan that will require full vaccinations for workers who are employed at hospitals, home health agencies and other types of medical facilities that get the funding. He also said companies that employ more than 100 people must require vaccines.

Biden’s orders have caused an uproar with some GOP members speaking out, as well as state officials in Texas.

MCH CEO Russell Tippin said the hospital is looking for Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services guidance to come down before October and is also making resources and education available for any staff member that wants to get vaccinated.

“There are so many rumors and miscommunication from the White House about what is going on … especially in the Great State of Texas … There are legal situations out there and we’ve to see what that looks like.”

Tippin said a decision on mandating vaccines for MCH workers will come only from the elected board and only after they have thoroughly studied the issue.

COVID has strained the budgets of all hospitals, not only with COVID patients but also with shutdowns in elective surgeries that typically provide a strong revenue stream.

Tippin said there are religious and other situations that can exist for vaccine exemptions and that all of those things must be considered. But, he said, MCH cannot afford to lose staffing to this mandate or to other factors such as career changes or even those just wanting to work somewhere where there is not a vaccine mandate

“… We can’t afford anything that handicaps us from moving forward. In New York, one hospital has quit delivering babies because they whole staff quit after refusing to take the vaccine … We are bringing in travelers (traveling medical staff) daily.”

MCH has a staff vaccination rate of about 62 percent and Odessa Regional Medical Center’s is about the same.

On Monday, Tippin said there were 98 COVID patients at MCH with three in pediatrics. He said 24 are on ventilators and that 20 of that 24 are not vaccinated. He said most COVID patients at MCH are from Odessa and are ages 17 to 88.

He reported the Regeneron clinic was at MCH was going well and that it averages 60 to 80 people a day. There have been three deaths at MCH since last Thursday.

ORMC’s CEO Stacey Brown said 28 patients are at ORMC with six on ventilators and that about 45 percent of the patients are age 50 or below. Most are from Odessa.

ORMC Chief of Staff Dr. Rohith Saravanan said it remains unknown if the area has seen the peak of this surge. “We had a slight increase over the weekend in the community. … Ppay attention and be careful. The rest of the country is seeing it level off … Keep masks on and encourage (people) to get the vaccine.”

Both Brown and Tippin said they encourage the vaccines, but following a mandate for vaccines is for either elected board members at MCH or ORMC corporate folks to decide.

>> Reminder that the Urgent Care on 42nd Street near Permian High School will temporarily close to funnel staff to the JBS and west side urgent cares.

>> U.S. Rep. August Pfluger issued a press release calling on Gov. Greg Abbott to push back against the mandates saying “Biden’s mandates are a flagrant overreach of his presidential power.”

Pfluger said he is vaccinated and supports those seeking the vaccine but that citizens have the right to make the decision for themselves and not to be forced into taking a vaccine.

Tippin sent a letter to MCH staff last week regarding the likely coming mandate. The letter:

“I first wanted to start this message off with a heartfelt THANK YOU. Thank you for what you have done for the past 18 months. Thank you for your unwavering spirit in the face of darkness. And thank you for your commitment to making sure our patients – COVID or not – receive the highest level of care possible during their stay at Medical Center Hospital.

COVID-19 has forced this hospital, this community and this country into many unwanted and unprecedented situations and decisions, including lockdowns, surgery shutdowns, mask mandates, ethical decisions regarding care, and now possible vaccine mandates. We ARE aware of the White House’s mandate announcement on Thursday, which will require ALL healthcare workers at facilities that receive funds from Medicare and Medicaid to be FULLY vaccinated. Under this mandate, it will NOT allow healthcare workers to opt out of the vaccine and instead receive mandatory weekly testing of COVID-19.

While we HIGHLY encourage all of our employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 (more than 60-percent are fully vaccinated), this is NOT a decision that we want to be forced upon our employees by federal leadership. We want our employees to be able to make that decision for themselves. As a healthcare facility that receives Medicare and Medicaid funding, not complying with this mandate would put us in a dire financial situation. However, we want you to know that we will be exhausting ALL of our resources to determine how to approach this situation and a FINAL decision has NOT been made by hospital leadership and the Ector County Hospital District’s Board of Directors. We are already in the process of consulting with legal experts, as well as local, state and federal agencies to determine our rights and abilities under this federal mandate. We also want you to know that we will communicate with you during this process and will make sure you are informed along the way and when a final decision has been made. We truly don’t know a time frame on an ultimate decision. While the White House wants this mandate to go into effect immediately, there will ultimately be legal battles and lawsuits that could make it all the way to the Supreme Court. Instead of overreacting, we want to approach this situation calmly and deliberately. This will allow us time to immerse ourselves in what will assuredly be a fluid situation of new information, legal battles and personal rights.

We understand that this mandate would affect roughly 40-percent of our employees, and if forced upon us, we know that we would inevitably lose a valuable portion of our staff – a loss that would be unimaginable in our current shorthanded situation. During this uncertain time, we are asking you – the very people that make this hospital function on a daily basis – to remain calm and unwavering. We are asking you to not make any rash judgements and/or social media posts regarding your future at MCH based on this federal mandate while we explore all of our potential options. We NEED each and every one of you today AND every day. YOU have put this community on your back for the past 18 months and have carried us through some of the darkest days this country has ever seen. You are always in my prayers and in my heart and I pray for guidance in this situation as we move forward in the fight against COVID-19.

God Bless.

Russell R. Tippin

MCHS President & CEO”