Healthcare worker vaccine mandate suspended

By Ryan Fitzmaurice

North Big Horn Hospital employees will no longer have to be vaccinated by January 4 in order to keep their jobs as a court injunction has suspended the vaccine mandate.

A St. Louis-based U.S. District judge blocked President Joe Biden’s administration from enforcing the coronavirus vaccine mandate on healthcare works in Wyoming and nine other states Monday, according to the Associated Press.

The court order stated that even under a bold interpretation of federal powers the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid did not have clear authority from Congress to enact the vaccine mandate without being authorized by Congress. 

CMS seeks to overtake an area of traditional state authority by imposing an unprecedented demand to federally dictate the private medical decisions of millions of Americans. Such action challenges traditional notions of federalism,” Judge Matthew Schelp wrote in his order.

Schelp was appointed to the bench by former president Donald Trump.

Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon praised the decision in a Monday press release.

“This is welcome news for Wyoming’s rural healthcare facilities, which are already facing staffing challenges without additional unconstitutional burdens being placed on their employees by the federal government,” Gordon said in a statement. “Healthcare employees should not be forced to choose between vaccination and termination.”

The preliminary injunction applies to a coalition of suing states that includes Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. Similar lawsuits also are pending in other states.

Hospital reaction

NBHH CEO Eric Connell said North Big Hospital is pausing its plan to come into compliance with the mandate in reaction to the court order. The plan will be paused until legal action is resolved, Connell said.

“The injunction prevents CMS from enforcing the mandate, and CMS has not provided any comment at this point,” Connell said.

As January 4 approaches, Connell said that vaccination rates have leveled off at the hospital, with 86 percent of employees now vaccinated or granted an exemption to the CMS mandate. That 86 percent is a high enough percentage for the hospital to still be in compliance should unvaccinated employees leave their post at a later date, but Connell said there is not much to be done about that remaining 14 percent. 

“At this point there is little convincing being done for those on either side of the debate.  We have been educating and encouraging the vaccine for close to a year.  We even provided significant financial incentives to accept the vaccine.  At this point there are few, if any, fence sitters remaining to decide regarding the vaccine,” Connell said. “As much as anything, the compulsory nature of the mandate caused those who had previously decided against it to dig in their heels and start considering alternative employment.  Perhaps this latest injunction will cause some who are feeling forced into the vaccine to soften their stance.”  

Connell said the hospital district will not take an official stance on the political debate of the mandate, but that the organization is continuing to balance advocating for the vaccine while respecting employee autonomy.

“To the extent the mandate is a political issue, we will let that play out in the courts.  Our mission is to enhance the physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of those we serve by providing compassionate and quality healthcare,” Connell said.  “To the extent that proven vaccines impact our ability to fulfill our mission, we encourage them, especially with respect to individual choice and through the informed decision making that comes with the advice of a trusted medical provider.”