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    Stephens Memorial Hospital CEO Brian Roland explains the hospital district’s vaccination policy during the Thursday, Oct. 28 board of directors meeting. Photo by Tonya Ball

SMH begins COVID-19 vaccine requirement, per CMS regulation

Stephens Memorial Hospital announced that, due to an emergency regulation issued by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), the hospital district would begin requiring all staff to receive a COVID-19 vaccination. The CMS emergency regulation went into effect Friday, Nov. 5.

In a Facebook post from Monday, Nov. 15, the hospital stated that failing to implement a COVID-19 vaccination policy could result in fines, penalties, denial of payments from Medicare and/or Medicaid, termination of other payor contracts, and loss of CMS certification. The hospital emphasized any of the above consequences could affect the hospital’s ability to continue operating.

“This rule affects almost all hospitals, long-term care facilities, rural health clinics (including Breckenridge Medical Center), federally qualified health clinics (including ResourceCare), home health and hospice agencies, and ambulatory surgery centers among other providers of healthcare,” the post states.

According to the CMS emergency regulation, staff vaccination requirements apply to Medicare and Medicaid-certified provider and supplier facilities which are regulated under the Medicare health and safety standards. The regulation requires staff vaccination only and does not create an alternative for testing unvaccinated individuals.

“While CMS considered requiring daily or weekly testing of unvaccinated individuals, scientific evidence on testing found that vaccination is a more effective infection control measure. CMS will continue to review the evidence and stakeholder feedback on this issue. However, facilities may voluntarily utilize testing alongside other infection prevention measures, such as physical distancing and source control,” the final rule states.

CMS regulated facilities must establish a policy ensuring all eligible staff have received the first dose of a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine or a one-dose COVID-19 vaccine prior to providing any care, treatment, or other services by Monday, Dec. 6. SMH is requiring staff to begin the regimen by Sunday, Dec. 5.

All eligible staff must have received the necessary shots to be fully vaccinated, either two doses of Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, or one dose of Johnson & Johnson, by Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022.

The hospital district’s vaccination policy was discussed during the Thursday, Oct. 28 SMH board of directors meeting. During the meeting, CEO Brian Roland said between 40% and 50% of all staff within the hospital district were already vaccinated.

“A deal was put out for all the TORCH (Texas Organization of Rural & Community Hospitals) hospitals to report what percentage of your employees have been vaccinated, and where we fall into the 40 to 50%,” Roland said. “(...) there are some hospitals in the 60 to 70%, there were 12 of the 53 respondents. Eleven hospitals are in the 70 to 80%, four hospitals are in the 80 to 90% and seven hospitals are in the 90% plus that have been vaccinated all of employees in rural hospitals. So where we fall into the category with nine other hospitals that are in the 40 to 50%.”

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