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    (THOMAS WALLNER | THE GRAHAM LEADER) Graham Regional Medical Center this week released information regarding their locally implement COVID-19 vaccination policy to be compliant with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid COVID-19 vaccination mandate. Shown above is a vaccine clinic held last year at Graham High School.

GRMC releases information on CMS COVID-19 vaccination mandate

Graham Regional Medical Center recently released information regarding a COVID-19 vaccination mandate enforced on the facility by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The mandate was issued Nov. 5, by CMS, and covers healthcare facilities who participate in the Medicare program.

Applicable healthcare facilities must make sure all eligible staff and business associates obtain the first dose of a two-dose vaccine no later than Dec. 5, 2021, with the second dose no later than Jan. 4, 2022. The facilities can also make all eligible staff and business associates obtain one dose of a single dose vaccine no later than Dec. 5, 2021. Eligible staff and businesses can additionally have an approved medical exemption or religious accommodation on file by Dec. 5, 2021. The mandate will cover GRMC and facilities such as the Young County Family Clinic.

The GRMC board met Thursday and spoke about the CMS mandate, to alleviate confusion between the healthcare mandate and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration vaccination mandate.

“That (OSHA mandate) does not pertain to us,” GRMC CEO Shane Kernell said. “We are healthcare which is under a separate mandate through CMS. That rule is through Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and is tied to the condition of participation in that service. So we elect to be a Medicare participating facility like all 6,000 hospitals pretty much in the United States (...). Ambulatory service, surgical centers, hospice, home health, nursing homes, anyone that takes Medicare and as a participant in Medicare is under that rule. So that’s a separate rule. They are not under the OSHA rule. So that one (OSHA) has recently been challenged by a couple of states, one is including Texas has filed suit to the federal government. We’ll see where that goes. They filed that suit in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals out of New Orleans as well. And we will see where it goes. But that being said, it’s a rule we have to abide by as a participant in that Medicare program. If we do not abide by that condition of participation, there are penalties upon a survey when they come in and survey us. And those penalties could be up to losing your Medicare if you’re not compliant. So it’s pretty serious. It’s the big gun that the federal government uses on health care. Now, where it goes, I’m not here to prognosticate, I’m not here to give my opinion on that. I’m just giving you information. That’s the mandate and so, we’re doing our best to abide by that.”

The hospital wrote online that failure to comply with the CMS mandate will bring fines and denial of payment. There is also the chance of additional penalties such as the loss of Medicare certification and the termination of other payer contracts. The hospital wrote on their Facebook page Tuesday that these actions would make the hospital financially inoperable. GRMC has implemented a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy to ensure compliance with the federal regulation.

“We’ve got the policy developed per our legal counsel (...). They did a big conference call with about 250 hospitals in Texas last Wednesday to go over the deciphering of the mandate. It was very informational. They gave out a FAQ and so did CMS and we provided that (...) to the employees (at) the hospital (...). We did a directors meeting to go over that mandate (and) policies in place,” Kernell said. “The exemptions have been given out to all the employees if they wish to elect to apply for that. The application for an exemption is not an automatic ‘yes.’ It will go before a committee. That committee consists of myself, HR, the Chief Nursing Officer and probably infection control. We will review those in a batch in about 10 days once we get them all in after Thanksgiving and we will make that decision and go from there. Now medical exemptions, we do not make that determination. That has to go before a physician to make that determination. But the religious exemptions, we do. (...) both forms are from the EEOC. They are standard EEOC forms for both. They are not our forms. That was recommended by the attorneys as well, just to stay consistent on the format. So things that we’re not requesting from them on a religious exemption is a letter from their clergy. (We) don’t want it (and) do not require it and the EEOC form (...) forbids it.”

For the rest of the story, see the Nov. 24 edition of The Graham Leader.

The Graham Leader

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