All East Tennessee hospitals that participate in Medicare and Medicaid must reinstate vaccine mandates for staff following a U.S. Supreme Court decision.
The decision affects more that 11,000 health care workers in the region, according to the Knox.Biz Book of Lists. About 10 million workers in the country are subject to the mandate.
"Vaccination has been demonstrated as effective protection because people are less likely to be hospitalized or die if they have been earlier vaccinated," Stephanie Austin, Tennova's East Network Senior Marketing Director and Public Information Officer, wrote in an email to Knox News.
"The majority of our caregivers already have chosen to be vaccinated and more are making that choice now. We appreciate the cooperation of our team during what has been a challenging time for everyone in healthcare."
If they haven't already received a vaccine, staff must receive their first dose or submit their exemption application by Jan. 27 to meet the compliance deadline.
"The challenges posed by a global pandemic do not allow a federal agency to exercise power that Congress has not conferred upon it," the Supreme Court wrote in an unsigned opinion. "At the same time, such unprecedented circumstances provide no grounds for limiting the exercise of authorities the agency has long been recognized to have."
The vaccine policy was initially introduced in early November by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. The policy required the COVID-19 vaccine for health care workers at hospitals, nursing homes and other health care facilities that participate in Medicare and Medicaid.
"To fulfill our mission, we serve more than 330,000 patient encounters a year, and about 60% of those individuals are Medicaid recipients," Matt Schaefer, president and CEO of East Tennessee Children's Hospital said on Friday. "Were we not to march towards compliance, there's a whole host of children and families who wouldn't give great, great care."
Schaefer says more than 90% of staff at East Tennessee Children's Hospital are already working toward compliance, and he's working with those who may feel conflicted about receiving the vaccine.
"My job, our job, has been to make room for that person in this process so that he or she doesn't feel left out, doesn't feel left behind, doesn't feel unvalued ..." Schaefer said. "Our team members have been experiencing this pandemic in every aspect of their lives. They see it when they come to work. They see it when they go home. I don't love that healthcare heroes — as they've come to be known, rightly — that some of them are truly conflicted about the right thing to do for themselves."
On Nov. 29, U.S. District Judge Matthew Schelp of Missouri issued a preliminary injunction on the health care vaccine mandate, agreeing with the plaintiff's argument that the Biden administration could not enforce the rule. Several hospitals paused vaccine mandate requirements until there was more clarity and the case moved through the court system.
"As of yesterday, that clarity was reached, and the requirement is now in place for Children's and all the healthcare entities covered," Schaefer said. "We're starting back down that path."
In a separate ruling, the Supreme Court blocked the OSHA COVID-19 vaccine-or-testing mandate.
Rebecca Wright: Higher education reporter at Knox News
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This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: East Tennessee hospitals require vaccine following Supreme Court order