By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
Cheyenne Regional Medical Center employees are now being asked to either get vaccinated against the coronavirus or submit to weekly COVID tests, the hospital’s CEO announced this week.
On Monday, CRMC CEO Tim Thornell emailed hospital employees to tell them a judge’s ruling blocking a federal vaccine mandate will have no impact on CRMC’s requirements.
“As we indicated in our town hall meetings and other communications, Cheyenne Regional was prepared to implement our own COVID-19 vaccination policy apart from the [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] mandate. And, if the CMS requirement were to be put on hold, we would move forward with our plan. So, we will do just that,” the email said.
As part of his proposed national vaccine mandate, President Joe Biden called for the full immunization of all health care workers. Under rules issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, health care facilities whose employees were not fully vaccinated by Jan. 4 could lose Medicare and Medicaid funds.
Wyoming and nine other states sued the CMS, claiming the agency lacked the authority to implement the requirement and a federal judge in Missouri on Monday issued a preliminary injunction to block the requirement. Judge Matthew Schelp ruled that in trial, the states would probably be successful in their claims.
The injunction is in place in the 10 participating states at least until hearings into the lawsuit itself can begin. As a result, the length of time it will be in place is not known.
CRMC is not requiring its employees to get vaccinated, unlike the CMS rules, but is offering employees who do not want to be vaccinated the option of submitting to weekly COVID tests.
If employees are not fully vaccinated by Jan. 4, they will have to undergo weekly testing, Thornell’s email said.
“This plan will immediately replace the CMS plan, and remain in effect until further notice,” Thornell said.
The hospital is also suspending a vaccine exemption process, since employees can now elect to be tested rather than get a vaccine.
“We continue to support our staff getting vaccinated and believe that the COVID-19 vaccine is an effective means of reducing severity of illness, hospitalization and death,” Thornell told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday. “We also allow our employees to exercise choice and opt-out of vaccination through routine testing.”
Earlier this year, CRMC full-time employees who were fully vaccinated received incentives of either 16 hours of paid time off or a $600 bonus, part-time employees received either eight hours of PTO or $300 and on-call employees received a $150 bonus.
Eric Boley, president of the Wyoming Hospital Association, said he has heard from a number of hospital officials who said they were glad to learn of a stay on the mandate, even though no one knows how long it will be in place.
During the recent special session of Wyoming’s Legislature, a number of health care facility officials testified that their facilities are already short-staffed and the vaccine mandate could drive more employees away from health care, leaving the facilities unable to treat patients.