Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals 'reviewing' federal vaccination mandate for staff

A Cleveland Clinic Akron General employee, Katarina Truss, receives the COVID-19 vaccine when the hospital system began vaccinating caregivers in Dec. 2020. Health care employees are now required to get vaccinated as part of a new rule from the Biden Adminstration. The hospital system is reviewing the new rules and plans to comply with the requirement, officials said Friday. [Cleveland Clinic]
A Cleveland Clinic Akron General employee, Katarina Truss, receives the COVID-19 vaccine when the hospital system began vaccinating caregivers in Dec. 2020. Health care employees are now required to get vaccinated as part of a new rule from the Biden Adminstration. The hospital system is reviewing the new rules and plans to comply with the requirement, officials said Friday. [Cleveland Clinic]
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The remaining Cleveland-area hospitals that do not yet require their staff to receive the COVID-19 vaccine are preparing plans to comply with the new federal mandate.

The Biden-Harris administration announced Thursday that health care facilities that receive Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) funding – more than 76,000 facilities nationwide – must require employees to receive the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by Dec. 5.

Until now, Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals had not required staff members to get vaccinated. In the coming weeks, both health systems will be “reviewing” the new rules, officials said Friday.

“To assure that we have a clear understanding and an implementation process to comply with the rules of the mandate, we are reviewing the latest federal requirements regarding employee vaccines that were just released," UH officials said in a statement.

And Cleveland Clinic officials are “reviewing the rule and will comply with federal requirements that apply to our health system,” hospital spokeswoman Andrea Pacetti said in an email.

Approximately 80 percent of employees, including non-medical staff, are vaccinated across the health system, she added.

But not all Cleveland Clinic locations report such high numbers. At Cleveland Clinic Union Hospital in Tuscarawas County, between 50 and 60 percent of employees are vaccinated, said Dr. Cody Turner, chief medical officer.

“I think that goes along with just the trend in the county in general. There is a lot more hesitancy with the COVID vaccination in Tuscarawas County than places like Cuyahoga County and even Summit County, where we also have hospitals,” Turner said. “I think that's kind of translated to our staff because these are people that live in the community as well.”

Officials had already been in conversations about how to implement a vaccination requirement ahead of yesterday’s announcement, he said.

“People should have some freedom of choice. But ... when you look at things like annual influenza vaccines, there is definitely precedent in health care organizations of requiring some vaccinations for the protection of our caregivers, but also for the protection of our patients,” Turner said.

COVID-19 vaccination uptake has been higher with doctors and nurses at the hospital, but there is hesitancy among many non-medical staff, he added.

“The places where we've struggled as an organization to get people vaccinated more are places like our environmental services workers, people who work in facilities and maintenance, et cetera. There has been a lot more vaccine hesitancy among those caregivers,” Turner said.

Under the new federal rules, health care facilities must establish a policy requiring employees to receive the first dose of one of the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the Johnson & Johnson one-dose shot by Dec. 5. Employees must be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4, 2022. Exemptions may be granted for medical or religious reasons, but there is no option for employees to undergo regular COVID-19 testing as an alternative to getting vaccinated, according to a CMS press release.

The mandate applies to any health care facility, hospital or nursing home that receives Medicare and Medicaid funding. It is not yet clear what exact action steps will be taken if facilities do not comply, but they could be subject to funding cuts.

About 40 percent of health care facilities in the U.S. have already imposed a vaccination mandate, CMS officials said in the press release.

Cleveland Clinic officials have previously expressed reservations about requiring a mandate due to concerns employees would quit on top of ongoing staff shortages.

“The shortage of health care workforce has never been as pronounced as it is today,” Clinic CEO Tom Mihaljevic said in a September City Club of Cleveland forum. “This is really a balance that we need to strike.” 

MetroHealth, the Cleveland VA hospital, Summa Health and Akron Children’s have already implemented vaccination policies. At MetroHealth, 12 employees quit or retired due to the mandate, and five were suspended for failing to report their vaccination status by the hospital’s Oct. 30 deadline, according to officials.

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