The clock is ticking for the vaccine mandate and many healthcare workers are stuck between worry for their job and autonomy for their bodies

November 30 – The deadline for healthcare facilities to comply with the federal vaccine mandate for employees or risk losing their Medicaid and Medicare funding is December 4.

The mandate could result in a serious loss of staff in healthcare facilities around the country.

One of the latest to announce compliance with the federal mandate is Fulton County Medical Center.

An email from the CEO of Fulton County Medical Center, Mike Makosky, to News Talk 103.7FM said this: As everyone likely knows by now, FCMC is required to mandate all employees to receive the COVID19 vaccine or face penalties from CMS, including fines and possible exclusion from the Medicare and Medicaid programs, which would severely impact the medical center’s ability to take care of the communities’ healthcare needs. The law allows employees to request an exemption for sincerely held religious beliefs or medical reasons, of which several were approved.  FCMC has followed the law in granting or denying those requests. Many employees have already been vaccinated with more scheduled to receive the first dose of the vaccine before the Dec 6th deadline.   

A return email from the radio station asked questions and stated that the word is FCMC’s workforce will lose a minimum of 60 people on Friday. The email asked if those people would be fired as well as the facility’s plans for a diminished workforce. The CEO was asked directly how many people were projected to leave and what were the plans to fill those positions?

The response was a form letter from the HR department.  

Tie into that a recent Missouri court case which looked at the federal mandate and the situation gets even stickier.

A Missouri federal judge heard a case where 10 states filed a lawsuit challenging the mandate, saying facilities that receive Medicare and Medicaid dollars can’t be forced to have their employees vaccinated.

The judge ruled that the federal mandate was illegal. The ten states include the Dakotas, Alaska, Iowa, Arkansas – none around here.

Attorney Clint Barkdoll, Pat Ryan and Michele Jansen discussed the vaccine mandates this morning during the Big Talk on First News.

Barkdoll said, “But if I’m sitting on the board of a local medical facility or I’m working at a local medical facility, I’m watching that case very closely because we know there are similar cases pending all over the United States. This is the first one that has come out with a definitive decision and you read the judge’s opinion, he’s saying that the federal government violated all sorts of protocols in issuing this mandate. There was no period of public comment. He also feels that there’s no causal connection between vaccine mandates for staff and preventing spread of COVID, which was of course the stated goal. He’s pointing out there’s no factual basis for that kind of assertion. Could there be other federal circuits, including here in Pennsylvania, that now piggyback on this decision and put the brakes on that mandate for December 4 which is coming up very, very quickly? My concern if I’m at WellSpan or Fulton County Medical Center, let’s take Fulton County, if they lose 50 employees, if they lose even 20 employees, you’re talking catastrophic consequences for a community like that. They’re there to provide essential medical health services for that community and I hear what the CEO is saying, they can’t afford to lose the risk of the funding sources for Medicare and Medicaid, but this is one of those situations where you’re kind of damned if you do and damned if you don’t because if you allow that many people to walk off the job, you’re not even going to be able to provide the essential services that you’re tasked to be there for in the first place. So something has to give here. Whether it’s another court stepping in or the Biden administration putting the brakes on this for a few more weeks because it’s a no win situation on all sides here.”

Ryan added, “The soft press piece that the CEO pushed off to somebody else here says if they buck this, it would severely impact the medical center’s ability to take care of the community’s health care needs. I’m sorry. Where’s the other side here that is saying we shed this many people, what about the community’s health care needs? Instead of sending me a press release like that, how about we get the Q&A on that. What’s the plan?”

Barkdoll said, “I’m hearing from sources at different facilities around this region that management is saying we may be bringing FEMA in as early as next week to pick up the slack. The problem is that is not a long-term solution. FEMA can’t be on the ground in these medical facilities forever. We know it’s impossible to make new hires to fill these slots, so it’s not really clear to me what the long-term plan is here.”

Jansen said, “It’s costing all of us more resources and money. This is insane. We are hurting ourselves so badly here and nobody will speak the truth. The abuse of process here is so unbelievable. Our president should be impeached for the way he’s abusing. He’s supposed to be upholding the constitution. He is knowingly not doing it. He even admits it at times. This is abuse of power. Bottom line. Period, end of sentence. It’s abuse of power. And do these workers or even the healthcare places have any recourse against the federal government for breaking their sacred oath to uphold our rights?”

Ryan asked, “Should they be fired? Should the ones who decide, I’m out. I was a hero before. Now I’m apparently nothing. I’m a piece of garbage. Should they be fired? I’m getting should I quit? Should I be fired? Do I have recourse if they fire me? What is the course of action here for an employee that’s not interested in taking the jab that was a hero not too long ago?”

Barkdoll said, “Thus far, at least on the area of say unemployment, states are saying that you are disqualified from unemployment benefits if you lose your job for failure to follow the vaccine mandate. However, people that are being denied exemption requests for religious regions, my understanding is that the employee can appeal that through the EEOC, their state Human Relations Commission. Now ultimately, the employee may still not prevail, but the point is if they appeal it, they may buy themselves a few more months of time and as we’re seeing how quickly this situation is evolving, the thought would be if you can buy yourself two, three, four months of additional time on the job, maybe a court decision steps in in the interim that does away with the mandate in its entirety, in which case, you’ve been able to effectively preserve your job. Beyond that, there’s not a whole lot of other recourse. This ties back in, so many of these mandates, they know from square one they may not stand up, but you look at this case, here we are days away from this deadline. How many healthcare workers around the country already feel that they were forced into getting the vaccine, many of them have complied. Of course if it’s now deemed null and void, there’s really no recourse for them. They’ve already complied with what was now deemed to be an illegal mandate at least in those 10 states yesterday.”

Fulton County Medical Center Exemption Review Team looks at all religious exemptions. If you’ve been denied, then contact the EEOC.

Barkdoll said, “This only applies to the religious exemption request because remember religion is a specifically protected class, protected category under the federal Civil Rights Law of 1964. So my understanding is if they’ve been denied a religious accommodation which in this case would apply, yes, they could appeal that to the EEOC and then pending the appeal which again could take months and ultimately they still may be denied relief, but pending the appeal, they typically would be allowed to stay on the job until there’s a final determination or final denial as the case may be from the EEOC. But strategically the idea might be if I can buy myself say three more months of time on the job where I’m out of compliance with the vaccine mandate maybe there’s a court decision or some other mandate that comes in that does away with the current vaccine mandate that would then allow the employee to stay on the job.”

Jansen asked, “Let’s say ultimately this is all termed to be unconstitutional. They never should have done it. Do all these people get recompensed? Do they get compensated for losing their job? For not getting unemployment? Can they file and get stuff retroactively? Everybody else seems to be able to do that. What I’m afraid you’re going to tell me though when it comes to the government you can’t.”

Ryan added, “Oh, but it’s okay when they shut the government down, nobody loses a paycheck. It should be the same way for regular schmoes and schmoettes.”

Jansen asked, “Would there be any recompense for these people?”

“To be determined,” Barkdoll said, “But unlikely. Because these are government mandates what the employer is going to give as a defense is that they are in good faith complying with mandates. They’re citing the financial concerns. So that’s going to be a defense, in which case the only remedy the employee would have is some kind of an action against the government itself and that’s going to be virtually impossible to get any relief going that route.”

Jansen said, “See that’s what they’ve figured out. That’s why they’re abusing the process because they, alone, can get away with it. Unlike a private company or individual, they can get away with abusing the process with no consequences and we’ve got to change that somehow. This is wrong. We’ve got to get the right people into government.”

Barkdoll added, “Notwithstanding that letter from Fulton County, I’m hearing just anecdotally here locally from some other employees at other local medical facilities that those facilities have recently become more liberal in granting these exemptions. And I think privately it’s likely a decision that they simply can’t afford to keep losing this many staff, so maybe a few months ago they were being very strict in granting the religious exemptions, they’ve now become much more liberal in granting them because they simply can’t afford to lose all these employees.”