MRH moving forward with 100% vaccine requirement |

MRH moving forward with 100% vaccine requirement

The Memorial Hospital at Craig
Cuyler Meade / Craig Press

A preliminary injunction on the federal mandate by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, will not delay Memorial Regional Health’s deadline for 100% of its staff to be either vaccinated against COVID-19 or exempted from receiving the vaccination.

MRH employees who are not remote workers must meet one of those two categories — fully vaccinated or holding an approved exemption — by Jan. 4 in order to continue being eligible to be employed by the hospital.

That’s because, in part, a Colorado state mandate that 100% of healthcare employees be vaccinated against COVID-19 never actually dropped its threshold to 90% as was previously believed. That means that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment mandate that all healthcare employees receive the vaccination, which would have resulted in the termination of 30 employees on Oct. 1, is still in place.

According to interim hospital CEO Jennifer Riley, the hospital was operating on advice that turned out to be poor.

“We got an email that Wednesday (Sept. 29), when everyone unvaccinated was going to be terminated Thursday, from Josh Ewing, our liaison with the Colorado Hospital Association, saying, ‘Hang tight. Don’t terminate people as planned tomorrow. We’ve been in communication with the CDPHE, they’re indicating they’re considering lowering the threshold to 90%,’” Riley said. “That would be in line with their flu vaccine threshold. So he said don’t move forward (with the terminations).”

The hospital, believing the CHA suggestion that CDPHE was likely to drop the threshold, followed the advice. But CDPHE never actually dropped the threshold. However, the hospital obtained a 90-day waiver from the state health department to allow them time to regroup before moving forward with the interrupted process — or to allow the state to drop the threshold as it seemed they might.

“Then the federal mandate came out, just as strict,” Riley said. “So we reinstituted our process. The deadline to apply for exemption was Nov. 18, reviews were sent back Nov. 24.”

Now, even though the federal mandate has a temporary injunction from a court in Louisiana allowing healthcare facilities to potentially wait to act on the vaccination requirement, the state’s waiver period is about to be up, and so the Jan. 4 date, which was set by the now-technically delayed federal mandate, will remain MRH’s date for full compliance or termination.

CMS billing accounts for over 60% of MRH’s revenue, and if the hospital does not comply with its conditions for vaccinating staff, CMS could have grounds to deny billing, forcing the hospital to lose that revenue.

Riley didn’t have the number of denied exemptions on hand Friday morning, but said three employees did receive medical or religious exemptions. Earlier this year, 30 employees were expecting to be terminated Oct. 1 because their exemptions had been declined, and they still refused to get the vaccine.

“If MRH is out of compliance with Colorado’s mandate, our licensure with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment may be jeopardized,” Riley wrote in an email to all hospital staff sent Friday morning. “MRH is required to maintain its status as a State of Colorado licensed healthcare facility in order to both provide care and bill for healthcare services. Noncompliance places MRH in jeopardy to have its licensure revoked and is simply not an option.”

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