A federal vaccine mandate could result in further staff shortages at rural hospitals, Kean Spellman, Grady Memorial Hospital (GMH) CEO, said.
“The federal government is basically playing, in my mind, a big game of chicken,” he said “That by threatening you with your job, you’re going to get vaccinated.”
The Biden administration has required all healthcare workers in the U.S. to be vaccinated. Recently, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a mandate for all eligible staff of healthcare facilities to be vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus.
All staff at GMH must be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4, 2022. Some exemptions may be made for religious or medical reasons.
At GMH, about 70% of employees are vaccinated, including all doctors, according to Spellman. However, staff who work in IT, laboratories, or housekeeping staff are disproportionately unvaccinated. These positions are not easy to fill, Spellman said.
Some employees are adamant about not getting vaccinated. Some staff believe they are young and healthy and would rather not take the risk. Others have already had the virus and therefore do not believe they need to take the vaccine.
Rural America tends to be older and more conservative. Some employees at retirement age may opt to walk away rather than get the shot.
Spellman said he believes the vaccines are safe and effective. At GMH, about 88% of patients admitted to the COVID-19 ward have not been vaccinated, he said.
He said he could understand if the mandate was for patient-facing employees only, but not necessarily for all staff.
Spellman also criticized the timing of the mandate. There has been an increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations, with five new infected patients coming in almost overnight.
In Grady County, active cases of COVID-19 have increased from 82 to 133 over the last two weeks, according to Dale Thompson, Grady County Emergency Management Director.
The upcoming Thanksgiving holiday could also cause an uptick in cases, Spellman said, especially since the county and state were among the lowest in vaccination rates.
Spellman is concerned virus hospitalizations will increase while hospital staff decreases.
Spellman said he hopes that either the deadline will be extended or there will be an alternative consequence to not taking the vaccine.