Hospices are increasingly concerned that their employee ranks will dwindle as staff weigh vaccines during ongoing labor shortages, even as they develop strategies to keep workers safe, patients and families. Additionally, some see potential complexities in ensuring compliance with the new requirements.
Eligible staff from healthcare organizations participating in Medicare or Medicaid will need to be fully immunized before providing care, treatment, or services by January 4, according to emergency regulations recently released by the Centers for Medicare. & Medicaid Services (CMS) from the United States. and the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The CMS rule applies to all organizations, regardless of size, requiring them to implement a vaccination policy by December 5.
Although most healthcare workers have chosen to be vaccinated rather than quit their jobs, providers can expect turbulence in an already shallow labor pool, according to William Dombi, president of the National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC).
“We can predict that there is going to be a bit of a bumpy road in the near term with these manpower mandates,” Dombi said at the recent NAHC Fall Forum. “You struggle to figure out where this is going. You continue to face reluctance from staff, especially among home helpers.
About 30% of the country’s healthcare workers were not vaccinated against COVID-19 as of September 15, according to a recent report from the American Journal of Infection Control, which analyzed data from the US Department of Health and Human Services. social.
The potential loss of staff due to an immunization mandate comes at a time when labor shortages abound in the country’s health system. While hospice providers worry about the risk of losing employees, some stakeholders argue that the mandate would “level the playing field.” Staff would be less likely to leave for a healthcare post in a company without a vaccination rule if all organizations are held to the same standard.
However, there are a few shortcomings in the mandate. Dombi said states that have implemented the mandates have received “no shortage” of requests for exemptions related to health or religion, indicating that a similar setback will likely come with the federal mandate. That leaves much of the decision-making to the discretion of the vendors, according to Dombi.
“What we have seen in states where they have already made vaccination of health care providers mandatory is that there is no shortage of requests for exemption from health care and religious belief,” said Dombi. “There are questions about how far CMS could go and impose vaccinations for staff who do not have contact with patients.”
Employees can be exempted on the basis of recognized medical conditions or religious objections. CMS did not publish a list of specific conditions, indicating that employers should refer to the standards of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
CMS’s mandate excludes many community and home-based providers, although some are still subject to it depending on the state they operate in, Hospice News sister publication Home Health Care News reported. This has created an issue vendors will need to keep an eye out for, according to Dombi.
Enforcement of the vaccine mandate will be through a hospice investigation and Medicare certification process. Suppliers may receive publicly reported non-compliance citations, which could ultimately lead to termination of the supplier agreement and intermediate sanctions in severe cases.
“We hope that we can achieve some degree of finality on the myriad of existing and pending vaccine rules. The current state of uncertainty is an untenable environment for the home care community, ”Dombi said in a statement shared with Hospice News.