Judge's ruling offers hope for healthcare solution

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Healthcare workers who risked their lives to care for patients during the dark months of the pandemic last year are facing loss of their jobs this year if their conscience or valid health concerns won’t allow them to submit to a series of injections ordered by Washington regulators.

A federal judge’s ruling blocking the Biden administration’s coronavirus vaccine mandate offers hope that a common-sense solution can be reached, at least in Nebraska and nine other states covered by U.S. District Judge Matthew Schelp’s ruling in St. Louis that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid had no clear authority to enact the rule.

Similar challenges are pending in other jurisdictions, and an earlier ruling blocked enforcement of a rule requiring businesses with more than 100 employees to require vaccinations or masks and weekly testing.

Schelp’s ruling came at the last minute, with more than 17 million workers nationwide in about 76,000 health care facilities and home health care providers that get funding from the government health programs required to receive their first dose by Dec. 6 and their second shot by Jan. 4.

Washington regulators probably have no idea what obstacles rural health care providers were already facing before the pandemic struck.

“Community Hospital stands to lose well more than 10% of its staffing in nursing services, home health and hospice, physical therapy, radiology and plant engineering as a result of implementation of the CMS vaccine mandate,” Troy Bruntz, CEO of Community Hospital in McCook wrote in a declaration accompanying the legal challenge.

“To maintain our emergency room and inpatient services, which are essential, we will be forced to limit or close services such as cardiopulmonary rehabilitation and home health and hospice services. This will be necessary in order to retrain and transfer registered nurses from these services to the emergency room and inpatient care departments.

Many services will have to be limited or delayed, and more patients will have to be transferred to other hospitals, where space is often not available.

“It needs to be understood that even if we can technically staff services with extra shift and call, we are already doing that, have been doing that for more than a year, and our vaccinated staff will not be capable of doing it for much longer. At that point, considering it is nearly impossible to recruit clinical staff today, more will resign due to the stress and burnout that will inevitably exist,” Bruntz wrote.

Things are even more dire at the Chase County Hospital in Imperial, according to Abigail Cyboron, CEO. “We are already functioning at a crisis mode; if we lose even one nurse, radiology technologist or laboratory technologist due to this mandate, our 24/7 nursing floor and emergency room service could collapse.

“This mandate will most certainly create disparities in care quality and access here in our rural community. Our healthcare staff fights hard and will continue to fight to provide excellent care for our community, but they are reaching a breaking point,” Cyboron wrote.

Vaccinations are still the best weapon against the COVID-19 virus, about three-fifths of the U.S. population is already fully vaccinated and other treatments are on the way.

But it takes dedicated medical staff to provide the services that keep the rest of us safe, when threatened by the coronavirus or any other medical condition.

The healthcare providers who kept patients alive, risking their own health before any such defenses were available, should not be punished when victory over the virus is in sight.

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