Emanuel Medical Center CEO Scott explains vaccine mandate issued for employees of local, rural hospital

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by WHITLEY CLIFTON

Conversation regarding a Covid-19 vaccine mandate being issued for Emanuel Medical Center has recently made its way around the local community,  and just to clarify - it is true. However, there are some details many individuals should be aware of that play a major role in the rural hospital’s compliance of such terms. To provide better clarification, The Forest-Blade sat down with Emanuel Medical Center CEO Damien Scott who elaborated more on the matter.

First and foremost, it is important to know that there have been two mandates proposed at a federal level by two separate entities – Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

“Many of people think that this issued rule was blocked by the Fifth Circuit of Appeals in New Orleans, but it did not - that's a different one. So there's two rules, one is for OSHA and the OSHA rule applied to  businesses with 100 employees or more. This was fought by the Fifth Circuit of Appeals. The second, is a Condition of Participation and CMS ruling and it has not been blocked. There are 10 states, as of yesterday, that have sued CMS but that's all I can find on that though, and Georgia is not one of the 10 states,” Scott commented during Friday’s interview.

CMS is utilized by the government at a federal level to oversee hospitals and other healthcare locations in-network with Medicaid and Medicare insurances. The agency is responsible for the certification and accreditations of in-network facilities and imposes a list of Conditions of Participations that must be met in order to maintain credentials and future funding for medical services rendered at the facility. With the CMS mandate proposal being supported by the Fifth Circuit of Appeals, it is now a requirement being enforced at hospitals and other healthcare-related facilities with a deadline to meet requirements set for December 4, 2021.

Typically speaking, when CMS gives out a new condition of participation, a 30-day comment period is included before it goes into effect. During the comment period, anybody (hospitals, doctors, citizens, etc.) can post a comment to address concerns pertaining to proposed terms. In turn, CMS takes this feedback into consideration for possible changes to be implemented before each condition of participation goes fully into effect. The CMS Covid-19 vaccination mandate, however, exempted the typical process and is being enforced a bit differently than normal. With this particular regulation, the rule will go into effect on December 4 and the 30-day comment opportunity will be available for feedback the following day, December 5.

To be in compliance with the proposed terms by the December 4 deadline, EMC must abide by three conditions – 1. The hospital must have a policy in place that compiles with the terms listed in the CMS condition of participation; 2. All employees must be vaccinated with an FDA-approved vaccine; and 3. Medical and/or religious exemptions must be provided by all unvaccinated employees.

“It's challenging- it's probably one of the most challenging things I've ever faced in my career. The vaccine has been very effective at combating Covid. It's been very good and has probably saved hundreds of lives. I hope everyone that can will get the vaccine because it does reduce the rate of Covid-19 and I do not want to see a fifth surge to come,” Scott said. “The challenge before us is to convince everyone to get the vaccine. Despite education and persistence, we remain at a only 51% vaccination rate.” CEO Scott stated while elaborating on the response of EMC’s approximate 430 staff and contracted staff.

According to CEO Scott, approximately 30 percent of the local community and roughly 51 percent of EMC staff have received vaccinations, which makes it a tough call for the hospital’s administration to make.

“We must comply- otherwise we don't have an accredited hospital in our community. My concern is that this has been divisive. Probably within our own families, there's a difference in opinions about the vaccine and their personal freedom. But, at this point, Emanuel Medical Center has to comply to regulations and we're going to do that but we're also going to try as much as we can to protect our employees’ rights through medical exemption through the medical exemption process and to the religion freedom process,” Scott further detailed.

To be in compliance with conditions, EMC employees must receive one of the two FDA-approved Covid vaccines: the Johnson and Johnson, a single vaccination dose; or the Moderna and/or Pfizer which requires two doses administered on two separate dates. These vaccinations are offered on-site to EMC employees and the public every Wednesday. Hospital employees with medical and/or religious objections to the proposed conditions will have to submit reasonings to the local hospital authority administration to be further reviewed by CMS.

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