Staff at the Wood County Community Health Center – but not the Department of Health – will have to receive the vaccination after the local and US Supreme Court action Thursday.
But, the Wood County Health Department’s board qualified, the mandate won’t go into effect until there is a schedule from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
“Our schedule is when CMS says you have to be in compliance, we will be in compliance,” board member Richard Straw said at a meeting on Thursday.
At stake is $843,211 in Medicare and Medicaid funding, or 55% of total revenue.
“We have 2,500 people we serve in the health clinic. We cannot, under any circumstances, jeopardize that,” Straw said.
Health Commissioner Ben Robison said the Supreme Court on Thursday issued a moratorium on President Joe Biden’s authorization that companies with more than 100 workers either have the coronavirus vaccinated or wear masks and undergo weekly testing.
However, the judges said a separate rule requiring COVID vaccines for an estimated 10 million health workers at facilities that receive Medicare and Medicaid funding can move forward.
“We don’t have an implementation timeline,” Robison said.
“Our goal is to grant every possible religious exception,” he added.
Strow proposed an amendment requiring board members to be vaccinated.
“As a board of directors, we shouldn’t be asking members of our staff for health centers to do anything we don’t have the same responsibility,” he said.
He said the amendment would “divide the building,” requiring health and dental staff to be vaccinated, but not DHS staff.
Required to obtain a vaccine includes employees, licensed practitioners, students, interns, interns, volunteers, board members, and individuals who provide care, treatment, or other services to facilities and their patients.
The amendment was passed unanimously.
The proposal to adopt the mandate, however, was rejected by board members DJ Mears and Kim Hertzfeld. Sue Yoder abstained from voting.
Merz asked if the board would be responsible if someone tasked with getting the vaccine had a reaction. Robson said no.
“The government tied our hands,” Hertzfeld said, to the applause of about twenty people in the hallway.
She said she works in health care, an exhausting field, and that mandate “couldn’t have come in the worst of times.”
Robison said he doubts the funding will be immediately withdrawn from the health center, if the mandate is not enacted.
He said the government would start its scrutiny of large hospital systems.
Robison said the authorization has been discussed since September. The Department of Health has since sought the opinion of the Wood County District Attorney’s office, while it awaits court decisions.
“The surprise to us was how widespread this was because of the way we organized,” Robson said.
He added that the Supreme Court on Thursday did not rule on the merits of the mandate, but only to stop it.
I asked Board Member Cathy Nelson if the new alternative would bring the mandates into question.
“If omicron does its job, in terms of acquiring – perhaps – herd immunity, is there a possibility that things could change dramatically?” She asked.
It was hard to predict, Robison said.
After the meeting, Robison said there are 60 employees in total, about 60-70% working in health and dental centers.