By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
The board of trustees for the hospital in Gillette made it clear late last week that it would not be pushed around by the federal government regarding a vaccine mandate, its members said in a letter to President Joe Biden.
Earlier this month, Biden announced that federal workers, health care workers and employees at companies that employ more than 100 people will have to be vaccinated against coronavirus or be tested for the illness weekly. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration will be responsible for levying fines against companies that do not comply with the mandate.
In a letter posted on the hospital’s website Friday, the Campbell County Health board of trustees called Biden’s vaccine mandate “gross federal overreach” and expressed concern that it would cause health care workers to quit their jobs in protest.
“Implementing such mandates in our community could leave us without enough healthcare workers to care for our elderly and sick, including those with COVID-19,” the board’s letter said.
“This will not only deflate our already declining workforce, but leave our organization in a critical staffing predicament that we have never dealt with. Our hospital and other facilities cannot operate without our devoted staff. Without them, healthcare services in our community, as well as the ones we care for would suffer tremendously,” it read.
Campbell County Health is host to the Campbell County Memorial Hospital, a 90-bed acute care hospital, as well as 20 clinics, a long-term care facility and surgery center. In total, CCH employs around 1,100 people, including almost 80 physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners.
As of Monday, Campbell County had the second-highest active COVID case count in the state, with 398. It also had one of the lowest vaccination rates in the state, with only 22.3% of the population being vaccinated against the virus, according to the Wyoming Department of Health.
The board also said that Campbell County was “proudly conservative” and did not like the federal government telling them what to do.
“The Board of Trustees does not condone this stomach-churning attempt of government overreach,” the board said, referencing the Wyoming Constitution, which grants each competent adult the right to make his or her own health care decisions. “We believe in personal freedom, and do not agree with forcing our employees to be vaccinated as a condition of employment.”
The board said that while the health organization may have to comply with the vaccine mandate in order to keep its state licensure and the doors open, it will support the efforts of Gov. Mark Gordon, Wyoming’s congressional delegation and the state Legislature to fight back against the policy.
“It simply does not align with our community’s values,” the board said. “Throughout the existence of the pandemic, our entire staff has worked tirelessly to continue offering the highest level of quality care throughout the community. They have served during this crisis, under sometimes hazardous conditions, they have experienced burnout, and they have cared for their own families while simultaneously caring for the community.”
“During this time, the Board of Trustees continue to hold the opinion that our employees are best equipped to make their own personal healthcare decisions,” the letter added.
Gov. Mark Gordon is considering calling a special session as early as October to address the vaccine mandate.
Gordon said he has advised Attorney General Bridget Hill to begin preparing a lawsuit to stop the mandate as it applies to private employers and has also started talking with legislators about holding a special legislative session, if necessary, to address the federal order.
“We cannot sit on our hands just watching this egregious example of federal government overreach,” Gordon said in a statement. “We are already communicating with other governors and states to prepare legal options once emergency standards are issued.”
The need for a special legislative session will be determined by the nature of the federal rules adopted to put the mandate in place, Gordon said.