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Missouri rural health care facilities warn of federal vaccine mandate consequences

  

The Mental Health Department and a few rural health care facilities warned of detrimental staff shortages that could shutter services if a federal coronavirus vaccine requirement for health care workers is allowed to stand. 

The warnings are included as declarations in Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s legal fight against the federal requirement provided to The Missouri Times. Oral arguments for the case are to be held Friday before the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Tim Schrage, the administrator for Scotland County Care Center in Memphis, said about 30 percent of the nursing home’s employees would be lost because of a refusal to take the COVID-19 vaccine. And already, the facility has deeply dipped into its reserve funds to pay a staffing agency to help with a workforce shortage and cover rising minimum wages. 

“While the intent of this emergency regulation may be to protect our elderly nursing home residents, I fear the result of this regulation may actually create more harm,” Schrage said in his declaration. “We could not continue to operate our facility with 30 percent decrease in our workforce. We would be forced to close our doors and displace the residents who enjoy residing in the Scotland County Care Center and who desire to live in the community where they have lived their entire lives.” 

Additionally, Brittany Vanlandingham, the administrator for the Monroe City Manor Care Center in northeast Missouri said more than 50 percent of her staff is still unvaccinated. And the majority of those unvaccinated said they would refuse to get the COVID-19 shots.

Valerie Huhn, director of the Department of Mental Health, said its behavioral health hospitals had a registered nurse vacancy of about 35 percent and a licensed practical nurses vacancy of 54 percent as of September 2021. 

“Even if a small percentage of DMH’s workforce is lost because of the vaccine mandate, operations will be negatively impacted,” Huhn said. 

“Many facilities across the state have indicated that they would have to close their facilities if CMS were to issue a vaccine mandate, which would displace thousands of residents across the state and affect the entire health care system,” said Nikki Strong, the executive director of the Missouri Health Care Association. “Skilled nursing care facilities are typically the only facilities that can provide the acute care services their residents need. The impact of skilled nursing facility closures due to the mandate will inundate hospital capacity leaving little room for others in the community to receive the care they need. This type of bottleneck to the health care system would likely create a healthcare access issue across the state.” 

The nation’s highest court has scheduled oral arguments on Friday in the cases covering vaccine mandates for health care workers under the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) umbrella and for large employers. Appeals judges have halted the CMS mandate in many states, including Missouri. 

Schmitt, who is running for U.S. Senate, has led the charge against the federal government’s vaccine mandates. His team will argue before the court against the CMS mandate but is also a part of the lawsuit against the employer mandate as well. 

Ahead of the arguments, nearly every Republican state senator and dozens of state representatives in Missouri signed onto letters in opposition to federal vaccine mandates. 

“It is critical for states to maintain dominion over legislation affecting public health because such decisions often have disparate impacts on rural and urban areas that must be considered,” one letter said. 

The rule from the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) required employers with at least 100 workers to ensure they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to weekly testing. 

The CMS mandate required all health care workers, clinical and non-clinical, under Medicare and Medicaid programs to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. 

The White House had said both rules would cover about two-thirds of the country’s workforce. 

Missouri ranks last in the nation in terms of the number of health care personnel who have completed vaccination status, according to CMS data. Only 64 percent of those workers are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. 

In the past seven days, Missouri has recorded nearly 44,000 positive cases of COVID-19 and 25 deaths. More than 57 percent of Missouri’s eligible population are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.