In a rural Missouri county where just 21.9% residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the CEO of its hospital said he will not enforce a federal vaccine mandate.
The reasoning for Dr. Randy Tobler, CEO of Scotland County Hospital, is that workers will quit if forced to get the shot.
“Our reality is we need staff to work. And in return for your working, we’re not going to ask you to get a vaccine mandate,” Tobler told CNN. “There were people in the hospital that freely shared that if the vaccine mandate happened on our account or on anyone else’s, they would not work here. That’s just something they weren’t going to put in their body.”
Scotland County has one of the lowest vaccination rates in Missouri, according to the state health department. At least 1,182 people in the county have received at least one shot, representing just 24.1% of its population.
Since the pandemic began, about 1 in 13 Scotland County residents have been infected with COVID-19, according to data from The New York Times. Cases have increased recently, with the Times declaring the county an extremely high risk for unvaccinated people.
The northeastern Missouri hospital has already lost 10 of its 57 nurses since the pandemic began, Tobler told CNN. He said it is “inexplicable” health care workers will not get vaccinated, but said his decision reflected the Scotland County community.
“A lot of people were pleased that we honored their right to choose what they want to do with their body,” he said. “And I think that may have helped retain some staff that may have been tempted to jump to other places because of salary or what they perceive as different working conditions.”
Speaking with NPR last month, Tobler said he was not in favor of President Joe Biden’s mandate that employers with more than 100 workers must require vaccination for workers or for them to be tested weekly.
Questions remain as to how Biden’s mandate will be enforced. It’s likely the ruling will go into effect in a matter of weeks, NBC News reported.
“Ironically, two days before the president’s speech when he announced that mandate that will be coming, we’d actually sent out mailers to nurses throughout the region and even the state saying, ‘Hey, come take a look at us because we don’t have a mandate,’” Tobler told NPR.
To combat the nursing shortage at his hospital, Tobler has hired travel nurses, which is a common trend nationally. But Scotland County Hospital cannot afford them for long, as their “crazy” $200 per hour rates make it difficult for a rural hospital, the CEO told Kaiser Health News in August.
Tobler may even lean on his wife, Heliene, who was training to become a volunteer certified medical assistant to aid the hospital, according to KHN.