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SC hospitals working to ensure employees comply with federal vaccine mandate following Supreme Court ruling

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Published: Jan. 19, 2022 at 8:29 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 19, 2022 at 8:51 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) -With the Supreme Court ruling last week to uphold a federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers, hospitals across South Carolina are working to implement the policy.

David Southerland, President, and CEO of Regional Medical Center in Orangeburg said the hospital is bracing for some resistance to the mandate.

“There’s probably going to be some that are going to oppose the mandate,” he said. “And if that happens and they don’t get the vaccines to meet those vaccine dates, then they will not be able to work. They’ll just have to be put on administrative leave until they get those mandates accomplished.”

South Carolina is one of 24 states affected by the Supreme Court’s decision on January 13.

Following the ruling, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued guidance to the impacted states. It states that health care providers with more than 100 employees must ensure that workers have had at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by February 14, and be fully vaccinated by March 15. There are religious and medical exemptions to the requirement, however.

Southerland said that as of January 19, Regional Medical Center has at least 80 staff out sick with the virus.

If there are employees who oppose the mandate, he said this could add to the already significant staffing issues putting a strain on health care workers.

“It’s going to be really challenging if we have people that don’t comply with the mandate,” Southerland said. “If you work in a hospital pretty much anywhere in the state, if you can’t work here, then you can’t go anywhere else and work if you’re not going to be in compliance with the vaccine mandate requirement so I think it ties a lot of employees’ hands unless they can find a special situation where they can work in a clinic with less than 100 employees.”

The South Carolina Hospital Association (SCHA) shares this concern.

In a statement, they said in part, “SCHA has consistently urged all South Carolina healthcare workers to be vaccinated and supports hospitals and health systems that require them for their workforce to better protect them, their patients and the communities they serve. We also recognize that a vaccine requirement has the potential to create additional staffing issues at a time when our workforce is already exhausted by the many demands of COVID-19.”

The SCHA added that since the Supreme Court has ruled, it will work with the state’s hospital and health systems to comply in a way that “retains a sufficient workforce to meet the needs of the people of South Carolina.”

Prisma Health and Lexington Medical Center say they will work to ensure all employees comply with the federal requirement.

In a statement, Prisma said in part, “At Prisma Health, nothing is more important to us than the health and safety of our patients and the members of our team. Throughout the pandemic, we have encouraged COVID-19 vaccination for everyone who is eligible. Prior to the legal challenges, Prisma Health had already achieved 93% compliance with the vaccine requirement.”

Lexington Medical Center employees have until February 11 to start their vaccination. By February 14, any employee who has not received the first dose of the vaccine or an approved medical or religious exemption will receive a 30-day notice of resignation.

During the week of February 14, employees with medical or religious exemptions will begin weekly PCR testing.

Lexington Medical Center says that their employee vaccination rate is 96 percent, meaning that 96 percent of all hospital employees have begun their vaccination process.

The Medical University of South Carolina says all of its employees currently have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, or have an approved exemption. They are working to ensure all workers receive a booster shot.

According to Regional Medical Center officials, 70 percent of their workforce has been vaccinated.

Southerland believes that getting more Regional Medical Center employees vaccinated could help control Omicron’s spread at the facility.

“This definitely could help limit the spread, not only in the hospital but also in the community,” he said. “And so one of the things we’ve done here in the hospital is we’ve restricted visitation. So we don’t allow any visitors to come into the hospital except for special situations. If someone needs assistance or if they’re a pediatric patient, then we’ll let a parent come in. Or a spouse comes in if we have a mother that’s delivering a baby. But other than that we’re restricting visitation. And that’s also trying to help limit the control of the virus.”

The mandate affects more than 10 million health care workers at 76,000 facilities nationwide.

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