Some Hospitals Drop Worker Vaccine Mandates

Carolyn Crist

December 15, 2021

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Some of the largest hospital groups in the U.S. have dropped COVID-19 vaccine requirements for staff after a federal judge temporarily stopped the Biden administration mandate for health care workers.

AdventHealth, the Cleveland Clinic, HCA Healthcare, Intermountain Healthcare, and Tenet Healthcare said they canceled the requirements for now to help with labor shortages. Hospitals have struggled to retain enough nurses, technicians, and janitors to handle the latest surge of hospitalizations during the pandemic.

Burnout, labor costs, and vaccine mandates have played a role, The Wall Street Journal reported. Thousands of workers have left the industry or lost their jobs in recent months rather than get vaccinated.

"It's been a mass exodus, and a lot of people in the health care industry are willing to go and shop around," Wade Symons, an employee benefits lawyer and head of U.S. regulatory practice for consulting firm Mercer, told the newspaper.

"If you get certain health care facilities that don't require it, those could be a magnet for those people who don't want the vaccine," he said. "They'll probably have an easier time attracting labor."

The Biden administration mandate required all health care workers at facilities that take part in Medicare and Medicaid to get fully vaccinated by Jan. 4. In November, a federal judge in Louisiana ruled that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services didn't have the authority to mandate vaccines for health care workers, according to The New York Times.

Federal officials are appealing the decision, and the case is likely to go to the Supreme Court, the newspaper reported. On Monday, the court allowed New York's vaccine requirement for health care workers to continue, and the justices have rejected other challenges to other vaccine requirements.

Altogether, the five hospital groups have more than 300 hospitals and 500,000 employees, according to The Washington Post . But it's unclear how many individual hospitals will suspend the vaccine mandate as some states — such as California and New York — have their own vaccine requirements for health care workers.

HCA Healthcare, which is one of the country's largest health care providers, said most of its 275,000 employees are fully vaccinated. Intermountain Healthcare said that 98% of its workers were vaccinated, and the Cleveland Clinic said 85% of its employees were fully vaccinated.

"We continue to strongly encourage our colleagues to be vaccinated as a critical step to protect individuals from the virus," Harlow Sumerford, an HCA spokesman, told the Journal.

Other hospital systems have maintained their vaccine mandates, the newspaper reported. Kaiser Permanente, which runs 39 hospitals, hundreds of medical offices, and has 210,000 employees, gave workers until Dec. 1 to get vaccinated. So far, 98% of staff are vaccinated. The hospital system fired 352 employees on Wednesday, and 1,500 more workers could be fired in early January unless they become fully vaccinated or receive an exemption.

Northwell Health, which is New York's largest health care provider with 77,000 employees, also told the newspaper that its mandate would remain in place. In October, the system fired 1,400 employees who were unvaccinated.

Hospitals that are dropping the vaccine requirements are often adding other safety protocols, such as regular employee testing, the Post reported. The Cleveland Clinic said that it was adding more measures, such as testing those who provide direct care to patients.

"We have seen some anecdotal reports of hospitals that have paused or rolled back their vaccine mandates in light of the legal process that is currently playing out," the American Hospital Association told the newspaper.

"However, we do not think most hospitals are changing their mandates," the association said. "But some may be choosing to mandate weekly testing or other mitigating strategies for unvaccinated workers instead."


The Wall Street Journal: "Some Hospitals Drop Covid-19 Vaccine Mandates to Ease Labor Shortages."

The Washington Post: "Some hospitals cancel worker vaccine requirements with Biden rule tied up in courts."

The New York Times: "Big Hospital Chains Drop Vaccine Mandates for Health Workers."


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