TAMPA, Fla. — The Supreme Court is allowing the Biden administration to move forward with a vaccine mandate for most healthcare workers. The Florida Hospital Association, along with public health experts, weighed in on the impact of balancing that mandate, while local hospitals shared how they plan to manage it.
The mandate applies to providers that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid funding, though the rule has medical and religious exemptions. According to the White House, it will cover 10.4 million healthcare workers at 76,000 medical facilities.
“I am not surprised that it was upheld,” said Mary Mayhew, the President, and CEO of the Florida Hospital Association. “I do hope that CMS will work with hospitals and other providers at a time when we have one of the worst workforce shortages that hospitals have seen in decades.”
Mayhew said it is critically important to balance this infection control priority of vaccines against the need to ensure timely access to care, which she points out is dependent on being staffed.
“We’re optimistic that hospitals can work with their staff either to get vaccinated or to work with them on the exemptions that are authorized through CMS. Our goal is to ensure that we don’t lose any staff over this,” said Mayhew. “We can ill afford to lose one healthcare staff given the workforce shortages and the current demands on our hospitals.”
The Governor’s Office provided ABC Action News the following statement when asked about enforcing this mandate in Florida:
"We are excited that the Supreme Court rightly recognized the Biden admin’s overreach in trying to mandate vaccines through OSHA. We are disappointed about the CMS ruling and what it could mean for the livelihoods of doctors, nurses, and health professionals in our state. As Florida’s prohibition on vaccine mandates remains in effect for all industries, we will be evaluating next steps for enforcement in the coming days,” said Taryn Fenske, the Communications Director for Governor DeSantis.
“There’s a state law that says that you can’t mandate, and that if you do, you can be punished by a $10,000 to a $50,000 fine per employee, and the federal law says if you don’t, you can be subject to millions of dollars being withheld from your reimbursement,” said Dr. Jay Wolfson, a Distinguished Service Professor of Public Health, Medicine, and Pharmacy at USF Health.
Wolfson weighed in on how hospitals might manage it all and find balance for an already stressed system.
“What’s likely going to happen is healthcare institutions are going to say there are legitimate basis in Florida law and federal law where you can get an exemption, go fill out the form, go fill out the medical exemption form and say, 'I’ve got a medical exemption,' or 'I’ve got a religious reason,' turn it in, and we’ll work on that,” said Wolfson.
ABC Action News checked in with local hospitals in the Tampa Bay area to see how they’re handling the mandate.
Sarasota Memorial sent the following statement:
“We are moving forward with our vaccine policy in order to protect the safety of our patients, our staff and remain in compliance with federal regulations. We are working with the guidance CMS provided in December - that all staff have received at least one dose by Jan 27 (or have a pending/approved request for an exemption or temporary delay as recommended by the CDC) and 100% compliance with all of the parameters of the rule by Feb 28. We have heard there may be further guidance on those dates. We are pleased to report that at least 86% of our employees are vaccinated. We will continue to work 1-on-1 with our unvaccinated staff members to remain in compliance with the federal rules.”
Bayfront Health St. Petersburg sent the following statement:
“Bayfront Health St. Petersburg continues to review the guidelines regarding COVID-19 vaccination requirements for healthcare organizations and will take appropriate steps. As a healthcare organization, we continue to strongly encourage vaccinations for all team members and physicians at Bayfront Health St. Petersburg.”
BayCare sent the following statement:
“The good news is 80 percent of BayCare team members are vaccinated and are protected against the worst impacts of COVID-19. Now that the nation’s highest court has lifted the injunction on the vaccination mandate for health care workers from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, BayCare will work over the next few days to review the decision and its relationship to Florida’s vaccination laws to fully understand the impact on our unvaccinated health care workers.”
Johns Hopkins All Children’s sent the following statement:
“99% of the Johns Hopkins Health System is fully vaccinated and 1% meet religious and medical exemptions.
Since September, we have required vaccinations for employees. The Supreme Court decision reinstated the federal vaccine mandate for health care workers, and we will comply with it.”
HCA Healthcare-West Florida Division sent the following statement:
“At this time, we are still reviewing the details of the ruling and will be sharing the specifics with our caregivers over the next few days. HCA Healthcare West Florida Division hospitals have always encouraged colleagues to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and made vaccines readily available. The majority of our colleagues have been vaccinated against COVID-19 or have been approved for a vaccine exemption for medical or religious reasons. Given the recent Supreme Court ruling, we will implement, in accordance with the CMS mandate rules, the requirement to vaccinate our healthcare workers who are covered by this policy unless they qualify for an exemption. If we do not comply with the CMS mandate, we could compromise our ability to serve our communities and provide care to patients under the Medicare and Medicaid programs.”
AdventHealth sent the following statement:
"Based on scientific evidence and what we see in our hospitals every day, COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective at reducing both the risk of becoming infected and the level of harm in the case of a breakthrough infection. As part of our commitment to protecting the health and well- being of our team members, patients and communities, we strongly encourage all of our team members to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Currently, 96% of our team members are in compliance with the CMS vaccine mandate. We intend to be in compliance with the legal requirements and continue to monitor developments impacting its enforcement."