‘Effectively, the hospital would shut down’: MMH says it must follow vaccine mandate

State & Regional

MIDLAND, Texas (Nexstar)- Midland Memorial Hospital held a news conference Tuesday to update the community on its coronavirus response. One of the key topics MMH discussed was the hotly debated vaccine mandate. 

In short, MMH says it will comply with the mandate, as issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. According to CMS, all employees of the hospital, excluding those with medical or religious exemptions, must be fully vaccinated by January 4, 2022. According to MMH’s Chief Executive Officer Russell Meyers, the mandate applies to all volunteers, vendors, contractors, and private practice physicians with hospital privileges. 

“Anyone who’s regularly interacting with patients or staff in the hospital’s facilities is covered by the rule,” Meyers said.

Even as legal battles wage on, the hospital says it has no choice but to act upon, and prepare for, implementing CMS’s regulations. Meyers said that even though the courts have suspended the OSHA requirements for businesses with more than 100 employees, no court has acted, as of yet, on any suit brought against the CMS regulations.

“Despite multiple lawsuits being filed, I got a notice this morning that the State of Texas has filed a lawsuit now to try and set aside the CMS regulation; those lawsuits filed in other states and most recently in Texas have not been acted on by the courts. And as a regulated entity we are required, we have no choice, but to move forward with our preparation, to implement the federal mandate as it was originally given to us and so we’re continuing to do that. As a regulated entity… we have no choice,” he said. “Refusal to comply with those rules cuts us out from every source of payment. Effectively, the hospital would be shut down.”

MMH said about half of its patients have Medicare or Medicaid as a payment source for their care. Additionally, private insurance groups, such as Blue Cross Blue Shield, have clauses in their contracts with the hospital which state the hospital must be certified. Essentially, the hospital must require everyone who works there, in any capacity, to be fully vaccinated, or the hospital won’t get paid. 

Meyers said the CMS guidelines do allow for narrowly defined medical exemptions as well as religious exemptions. Employees have until November 21 to request an exemption. Meyers said some employees have already submitted their requests, but he expects more will come soon. According to Meyers, a small committee will consider all exemption requests and will grant those that meet the criteria.

For now, the hospital is trying to minimize the loss of staff. 

“We have had a small number of staff and expect that a few volunteers and others will resign over the mandate. That’s not what we hoped would happen, but it’s certainly something that we had reason to expect,” Meyers said. “It’s happened at other (hospitals) as well. We’re going to do everything that we can to be flexible and compassionate with our people, to communicate clearly, and to minimize the loss of staff who are so important to us and to the community.

A large staff exodus would not bode well for the hospital, which remains very busy, even as coronavirus cases have started to level off. As of Tuesday, MMH said it is caring for 205 patients throughout the hospital. 34 of those patients are hospitalized with COVID-19 or are recovering from the virus. 

Meyers said the drop in coronavirus admissions is a positive sign but is asking the community to remain cautious and take precautions as we head into the holiday season. 

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