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Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals and Aultman Hospitals are pausing their requirements for employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 after a federal judge this week temporarily blocked President Joe Biden's mandate for health care workers from going into effect in Ohio.
The preliminary injunction temporarily blocks enforcement of the COVID-19 vaccine federal mandate by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
In a statement, Cleveland Clinic said that in light of the injunction, it's pausing the implementation of its COVID-19 vaccine policy, which required all employees and those who provide services with it to either receive the COVID-19 vaccine or an approved exemption with accommodations.
The clinic said that it will put in place additional safety requirements for employees who are unvaccinated, including periodic testing for those providing direct clinical care.
The clinic said it continues to strongly encourage all employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and said the majority of its employees are already vaccinated.
In the Akron area, Cleveland clinic operates Akron General, Mercy Hospital in Canton and Medina Hospital.
University Hospitals said in a statement it had been moving to implement the COVID-19 vaccine mandate required by CMS, but in light of the injunction, come Jan. 4, unless there's further legal action, caregivers can continue to provide patient care services regardless of their vaccination status.
Even though it's not a condition of employment at this time and CMS deadlines don't apply while the injunction remains in place, UH continued to ask its caregivers, both in clinical and nonclinical positions, to get vaccinated or seek an accommodation.
It said "the overwhelming majority" of its caregivers are vaccinated and said it's grateful to its caregivers for their service.
"We believe, consistent with the scientific consensus, that COVID-19 vaccines are the most effective way to protect our caregivers, patients and community," UH said in the statement.
University Hospitals operates Portage Medical Center in Ravenna.
Canton's Aultman Hospital also said it will temporarily pause the vaccine mandate for its workers while it awaits more details.
"We still encourage all of our employees to get vaccinated, as it remains one of the most effective tools we have at keeping COVID-19 under control," Aultman spokesman Jason Clevenger said.
Biden had imposed a Dec. 6 deadline for health care workers to get the first dose of the vaccine and a Jan. 4 deadline to be fully vaccinated. Now, hospitals and nursing homes will have more time to figure matters out.
U.S. District Court Judge Terry A. Doughty said the federal executive branch does not have the constitutional authority to implement the vaccine requirement. It follows another federal ruling this week that made the same decision but only applied to 10 states.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost has challenged and sued over other aspects of Biden's vaccine requirements, too, including a mandate that businesses with more than 100 employees must require COVID-19 vaccines.
The Biden administration is likely to appeal these injunctions, as it has with similar cases. With the rulings, the mandate's effects are on hold until the issue is fully played out in the judicial system.
Biden and pro-vaccine advocates have called such mandates necessary to increase vaccination rates, while opponents argue could lead to severe understaffing if workers quit to avoid being vaccinated.
In Summit County, Summa Health updated its vaccination policy in August to include the COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of employment, prior to the federal mandate being announced. Summa said it's at 100% compliance across the organization and doesn't have any plans to change its policy.
Akron Children's Hospital is extending its deadline for employees to be vaccinated until Jan. 11.
“Akron Children’s Hospital notified employees on Nov. 10 of a change in its policy regarding its COVID-19 vaccine requirement. In response to the federal government’s rule that all health care workers in the United States be vaccinated by Jan. 4, Akron Children’s removed the option of being tested regularly for the virus. Our target date was to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4 with either the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccine or the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine,” said Children's Chief Operating Officer Lisa Aurilio. “Now that a federal judge has placed a stay on the CMS mandate, Akron Children’s has decided to continue on course for vaccination but has extended the deadline until January 11 to allow for a bit more time for employees to schedule and receive their vaccine.”
Vaccine clinics for employees who need a COVID-19 vaccine are being offered on the Akron Children's campus in the next few weeks.
Children’s has also accepted documentation from employees requesting vaccine exemption for religious or medical reasons. The exemption requests are being processed, and denials or approved exemptions will be communicated with those employees. Accommodation for exemptions will be testing at least weekly for employees coming to any clinical or administrative part of Children's.
Western Reserve Hospital in Cuyahoga Falls, which is not currently mandating that employees receive the COVID-19 vaccine, has a staff vaccination rate of 86%.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, Aultman pause vaccine mandates