Some hospitals, healthcare providers, and nursing homes would stand to lose up to a third of their workers for not complying with President Joe Biden’s federal coronavirus vaccine mandate by January 4, the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday.
The report was published before a judge halted Biden’s vaccine mandate for healthcare workers on Monday afternoon, saying the mandate imposes a burden “on the ability of healthcare facilities to provide proper care, and thus, save lives.” In its report, the Journal cited a September Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey of more than 2,000 hospitals around the country, which found that 30 percent of workers remained unvaccinated against COVID-19.
“Applied to a nationwide healthcare workforce of some 22 million according to the Census Bureau, that would equal nearly seven million who have yet to get inoculated,” the reports states.
At least 17 million healthcare workers are employed at facilities that receive reimbursement from the federal Medicare and Medicaid programs, according to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services [CMS] data cited in the report. Notably, the Biden administration made “future reimbursement contingent on all eligible staff getting fully vaccinated against Covid-19 by Jan. 4” but allowed for religious and medical exemptions.
Since Biden issued the mandate, at least two dozen states filed lawsuits against his administration. On Monday, 10 states — North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, New Hampshire, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Alaska, and Arkansas— who brought a lawsuit against Biden, challenging the constitutionality of the mandate, were successful in securing a preliminary injunction, meaning the Biden administration is banned from enforcing the mandate during litigation or until a further court order. The judge specifically pointed to the possibility of facility closures and staffing issues that could result from Biden’s mandate.
“Thus, if the mandate goes into effect, it will irreparably harm patients by impeding access to care for the elderly and for persons who cannot afford it—directly contrary to Medicare and Medicaid’s core objective of providing proper care,” U.S. District Judge Matthew Schelp said in his 32-page opinion, which continued:
In sum, Plaintiffs’ evidence shows that facilities—rural facilities in particular—likely would face crisis standards of care or will have no choice but to close to new patients or close altogether, both of which would cause significant, and irreparable, harm to Plaintiffs’ citizens.
The Journal pointed to such an example: Clark Fork Valley Hospital and Family Medicine Network in Plains, Montana. According to the report, the facility will be unable to “provide basic medical care in an area 90 miles from any larger hospitals” if workers continue to remain unvaccinated.
“It would mean a tremendous reduction in service,” said Nick Lawyer, who practices family medicine there. The lawyer noted that in roughly 55 percent of the hospitals, 200 employees are vaccinated.
Places where mandates have already gone into effect have seen shortages and closures. In New York, Lewis County Health System stopped delivering babies due to staffing shortages resulting from its vaccine mandate. In Maine, an assisted-living facility and five nursing homes closed following a statewide mandate for healthcare workers, according to the Maine Health Care Association.
“The group estimates that up to 10% of nursing-home workers will leave rather than comply with the mandate,” the report continued.
Schelp laid out several similar examples in his opinion in the context of “existing and significant shortages” as well as “open and unfilled positions,” adding that the mandate would “exacerbate the already existing staffing problem.” He also noted that facilities in rural areas would likely be hit the hardest.
“As an example, for a general hospital located in North Platte, Nebraska, implementation of the mandate would result in the loss of the only remaining anesthesiologist,” he wrote. “…Understandably, without an anesthesiologist, there could be no surgeries—at all.”
Schelp also pointed to an instance at a nursing home in Memphis Missouri, in which the building manager said he will leave “if the choice is between his job or the vaccine.” He wrote, citing the plaintiff’s argument:
If the mandate takes effect, then, the nursing home would have no one competent enough to run [the] building and [perform] all the complicated systems and required inspections. …Also, this type of position is not the kind that can be filled “quickly, especially with today’s workforce and being in a rural setting.
The judge wrote about another facility in Memphis, Missouri, rhat would be forced to close if the mandate took effect.
Further, the loss of staffing in many instances will result in no care at all, as some facilities will be forced to close altogether. For example, the Administrator of the Scotland County Care Center (SCCC), a nursing home located in Memphis, Missouri, notes that out of about sixty-five employees, twenty have indicated that they are opposed to taking the vaccine, and if the mandate is imposed, that they will quit.29 Doc. [9-9] at 2. A loss of twenty staff members will cause SCCC to “close its doors” and displace residents that have lived in that community their entire lives.
Overall, Schelp, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump in 2019, clearly laid out several ways in which Biden’s vaccine mandate is unlawful, leaving little doubt as to what his final ruling would be.
The Biden administration will most likely appeal Schelp’s decision and could do so before the final judgment is even reached. If Biden does appeal, the case would go to the conservative-leaning U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit before possibly reaching the U.S. Supreme Court.
The case is Missouri v. Biden, No. 4:21-cv-1329 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.