Only a handful of staff in Stark County’s major hospital systems chose to remain unvaccinated when this week’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate went into effect across the state.
Across the system, 99 percent of staff at both Aultman Hospital and the Cleveland Clinic system, which includes Mercy Hospital in Stark County, comply with the COVID-19 vaccination requirement set by a Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Directive and confirmed by the US Supreme Court last month.
Health systems that do not comply with the mandate may risk fines or, as a last resort, termination from Medicare and Medicaid participation.
According to Missi Steepleton, CEO of Marketing and Corporate Communications at Aultman Hospital, only 36 out of 7,000 Aultman employees are incompatible.
“We understand that some of our colleagues disagree and are upset by the vaccine mandate set by the CMS,” Steepleton said. “But like 76,000 other healthcare facilities across the country, we are bound by CMS rules and requirements.”
The employees now have administrative leave. Steepleton said they will be allowed to return to work if they have a dispensation or have received their first vaccine dose before the March 15 deadline.
“If we do not meet the CMS requirements, our ability to care for patients and provide the health care our community needs will be extremely and negatively impacted,” Steepleton said. “We must adhere to as the health and safety of our patients, visitors and staff is our top priority at Aultman.”
For about half of the country’s states, the deadline for first doses was January 27, followed by a second dose deadline on February 28.
The other half, which includes Ohio, was ordered to comply with the rules – meaning staff are fully vaccinated or have a request for exemption pending – by February 14 for the first doses and March 15 for the second. The discrepancy in the deadline has to do with lawsuits that some states pursued, and ultimately lost, to block the claims.
The Cleveland Clinic system, which has locations outside of Ohio, chose to follow the January 27 deadline for the entire system. When the original deadline came into force, 750 employees out of 65,000 in the system were put on administrative leave for non-compliance. On February 11, that number was down to 450; and by February 15, only 250 employees in the entire system remain incompatible.
The Cleveland Clinic does not release the compliance numbers for specific hospitals. None of the hospital systems stated how many employees were granted a dispensation from vaccination. Providers may grant exemptions to employees with disabilities or on a medical basis or with sincere religious beliefs. Those who receive exemptions are not required to be tested regularly for COVID-19.
Within both hospital systems, the majority of providers were vaccinated before the CMS Directive came into force. In mid-Januaryalmost 90% of Aultman employees and 67% of Mercy staff were vaccinated, as were 85% of the entire Cleveland Clinic system.
Nursing homes are not on track to meet deadlines, according to the latest data
It is not only hospitals that are trying to achieve full vaccination. The CMS staff vaccination rule applies to Medicare- and Medicaid-certified providers, which include hospitals, nursing homes, surgery centers, rehabilitation facilities, and more.
Nursing homes have been a problem throughout the pandemic with a combination of vulnerable residents and frequent staff shortages.
A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that nursing homes with low staff vaccination had more cases and deaths than those with highly vaccinated staff.
In Stark County, only nine of the 36 CMS-supported nursing facilities had more than 80% of staff at least partially vaccinated, according to federal January 30 data. Two plants reportedly had less than 50% of their staff, at least partially vaccinated.
In most Stark facilities, according to federal data, more residents are vaccinated than staff, and residents tend to have higher booster admission rates.
Peter Van Runkle, executive director of the Ohio Health Care Association, which represents long-term care providers in the state, said the federal data is not exactly representative of compliance with the CMS mandate. The data, which are reported by nursing homes to the CDC’s National Healthcare Safety Network, do not break people who have received exemptions from the other unvaccinated individuals, so compliance rates may be higher than the data indicate.
Unlike hospitals that have put unvaccinated or otherwise incompatible staff on leave, Van Runkle said he does not expect to see it in many nursing homes yet. Facilities that have more than 80% compliance and a plan to achieve 100% compliance will not be subject to sanctions until April, he said, so he suspects many facilities, especially as the entire field is struggling under a worsening shortage on labor, will push off. to get rid of workers as long as possible.
“Many skilled nursing facilities are not able to put people on administrative leave even if they refuse to be vaccinated,” Van Runkle said. “And I suppose when it comes around April, and 100% becomes 100%, there will probably be providers who are going to roll the dice because they would rather have some unvaccinated employees and take the chance of being quoted by land surveyors, than they wanted to not have enough staff to take care of the residents. ”
Sam Zern can be contacted at [email protected] or 330-580-8322. You can also find her on Twitter at @sam_zern.