Federal regulations issued late Thursday will require hospital employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced the requirements, saying they were issued in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said existing emergency regulations requiring vaccinations for nursing home workers will be expanded to include hospitals, dialysis facilities, ambulatory surgical settings, and home health agencies. Meeting the vaccination requirement is a condition for hospitals and other health care settings to participate in Medicare and Medicaid programs.
The decision was based on the continued and growing spread of the virus in health care settings, especially in parts of the U.S. with higher incidence of COVID-19, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
“There is no higher priority for us than patient health and safety,” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a prepared statement. “As the Delta variant strengthens, the Biden-Harris Administration is committed to doing everything we can to keep patients, and those who care for them, safe. There is no question that staff, across any health care setting, who remain unvaccinated pose both direct and indirect threats to patient safety and population health. Ensuring safety and access to all patients, regardless of their entry point into the health care system, is essential.”
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster went to Twitter with his response, saying that “The American Dream has turned into a nightmare under President Biden.”
“They have declared war against capitalism, thumbed their noses at the Constitution, and empowered our enemies abroad,” McMaster said. “Rest assured, we will fight them to the gates of hell to protect the liberty and livelihood of every South Carolinian.”
Nursing homes with an overall staff vaccination rate of 75% or lower experience higher rates of preventable COVID-19 infection, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
“We know that those working in health care want to do what is best for their patients in order to keep them safe,” Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, the agency’s administrator, said in a prepared statement. “As the Delta variant continues to spread, we know the best defense against it lies with the COVID-19 vaccine. Data show that the higher the level of vaccination rates among providers and staff, the lower the infection rate is among patients who are dependent upon them for care. Now is the time to act. I’m urging everyone, but especially those fighting this virus on the front lines, to get vaccinated and protect themselves, their families, and their patients from COVID-19.”
The federal agency said that it “expects certified Medicare and Medicaid facilities to act in the best interest of patients and staff by complying with new COVID-19 vaccination requirements.”
“Health care workers employed in these facilities who are not currently vaccinated are urged to begin the process immediately, ” the agency said in a statement. “Facilities are urged to use all available resources to support employee vaccinations, including employee education and clinics, as they work to meet new federal requirements.”
Earlier in the day Thursday, an online petition directed toward Prisma Health’s executive leadership Thursday called on the healthcare system to require all of the hospital system’s employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccination.
The petition on actionnetwork.org had more than 100 signatures by 1 p.m. Thursday. According to the website, the petition is sponsored by the medical staff of Prisma Health Children’s Hospital — Upstate.
The petition did not include specific names of those who started the petition or a date for when the petition first went up. The petition has a goal for 200 signatures.
“We, the medical staff of the Prisma Health Children’s Hospital — Upstate, are writing to express our concerns surrounding the Prisma Health approach to COVID-19 vaccinations. Specifically, we are writing to state our strong support for a requirement that all employees either receive the COVID-19 vaccine, or receive a medical excuse from their medical provider,” the petition states. “We are fortunate to have access to three highly effective and safe COVID-19 vaccines, which have been shown to dramatically reduce the risk of significant disease — including decreased risk for hospitalization and death.”
The petition states a vaccine mandate would send a “strong and clear” message to the community since Prisma Health is the largest healthcare system in South Carolina.
A Prisma Health spokesperson did not respond to phone messages or emails seeking comment about the petition.
In a separate interview Thursday before the federal requirements were issued, Dr. Wendell James, Prisma Health’s chief clinical officer in the Upstate, said the hospital system would comply with any federal regulations issued.
“Any guidelines like that that are issued by CMS or the federal government to us, we will follow,” he said.
Last month, as other hospital systems were announcing plans for COVID-19 vaccine requirements, Prisma Health declined to roll-out a vaccine requirement.
Nikie Mayo is an investigative reporter for The Greenville News. Daniel J. Gross is an investigative watchdog reporter focusing on public safety and law enforcement for The Greenville News. Reach them at [email protected] or [email protected] Subscribe to The Greenville News at greenvillenews.com/subscribe.