Rural hospitals risk losing funding, staff over COVID-19 vaccine mandate

Published: Sep. 13, 2021 at 10:57 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 13, 2021 at 10:58 PM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - Administrators at rural hospitals say they’re frustrated and concerned after president Joe Biden mandated all hospital staff get the COVID-19 vaccine. Some of that stems from inconsistency from regulatory agencies and conflicting orders. Governor Abbott recently prohibited public hospitals from mandating their staff to get the shot.

“How’s Governor Abbott going to take this? He hasn’t complied with anything federal laws have done so far. So, we’re going have to, here in Texas at least, we’re going to have to wait and see how that plays out,” Jerry Jasper, CEO at Brownfield Regional Medical Center said.

According to a 2019 report from the Texas Organization of Rural and Community Hospitals, 26 rural hospitals have closed in Texas in the last decade. The organization cites the driving force behind the closures is Medicare cuts totaling $50 million a year, and a $100 million a year underpayment by Texas Medicaid. Now, the Medicare and Medicaid funding the hospitals do receive is at risk if staffers don’t get the vaccine.

Jasper says nursing agencies are pulling staff away for a bigger paycheck, so losing any workers hurts rural hospitals. He says vaccines are highly encouraged, but not all of his staff have received the shot.

“20 percent of my, probably 20 to 25 percent of my staff will have to go away if that’s the case,” Jasper said.

Jasper says losing those workers would probably shut them down. Losing Medicare and Medicaid money isn’t an option either, as it accounts for 80 to 85 percent of their funding.

“It’s huge in our rural community as all the other rural communities. We all have high poverty levels and stuff like that, so a lot of Medicaid usage in our communities and stuff like that,” Jasper said.

“Well it would be devastating for the community, frankly. We have a large percentage of our revenue that comes from Medicare, Medicaid and those kinds of products,” Larry Gray, Seminole Hospital District CEO said.

Gray says about 70 percent of his staff have been vaccinated. While he encourages the vaccine and says it’s safe, he doesn’t think the mandate is the right approach.

“I think the mandate is just a terrible message because if the vaccinations are working, why do you have to mandate people to get the vaccines? What happens to individual choice and medical decisions between the patient and their doctor, which is all of the things that we’re trying to support,” Gray said.

Gray says every week, the hospital gets a new regulation from a new agency, the inconsistency being tough for the health care community to absorb. CMS hasn’t sent out any rules yet, so Jasper says it’s a waiting game to see what those rules are and if the state joins the fight against the mandates.

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