Meadville Medical Center suspends vaccine requirements for workers

·3 min read

Dec. 4—Meadville Medical Center has suspended its COVID-19 vaccination requirements for employees in light of a federal court's preliminary injunction issued this week.

MMC and its subsidiaries were prepared to fire unvaccinated employees, effective Monday, if they had not been granted an exemption, according to an email sent to all employees Wednesday afternoon. A copy of the email, dated Dec. 1, was obtained by The Meadville Tribune.

However, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana issued a preliminary injunction this week blocking a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services vaccine mandate for health care workers nationwide by Jan. 4, 2022.

"Given this recent development, Meadville Medical Center (MMC) and its Subsidiaries will not proceed on Monday, December 6th, with the separation of unvaccinated employees, who have not been granted an exemption as previously communicated," Philip Pandolph, the hospital's president and chief executive officer, wrote in that email.

"It continues to be our position that as many of our workforce should be fully vaccinated as possible, however, it will not be a condition of employment at present based on this development," Pandolph wrote. "If you have yet to be vaccinated, I again strongly encourage you to please reconsider as we continue to see significant impacts from COVID-19 locally.

"Should it again become a CMS requirement or 'Condition of Participation' in the Medicare program, we will be required to comply as previously articulated," Pandolph wrote. "Employees who have been granted exemptions will not have to re-apply if the injunction is lifted and the mandate applies at some point in the future. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and communicate additional developments when and if they occur."

MMC has 83 percent of the roughly 1,500 employees of the medical center and its affiliates vaccinated, Dr. Kevin Kraeling, the hospital's medical director, said Friday. There are 275 employees who are unvaccinated — 200 of whom are exempted from vaccination with another 75 whose choice for not being vaccinated is unknown, according to Kraeling.

Back in mid-September, MMC had only 70.5 percent of its employees of the hospital and its affiliates vaccinated at that time.

With the federal injunction in place, both the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and MMC are not enforcing a vaccine mandate, Kraeling said.

"We may have lost a few employees during that process," Kraeling said when asked if MMC had employees leave during the early fall due to the pending vaccine mandate. "We're calling those folks back to see if they're still interested in being employed at the hospital. We're going to monitor that situation closely in terms of how the mandate plays out in the court system. We'll follow whatever federal guidelines are mandated."

"During this entire time, we're still encouraging our employees to get the vaccine — but not require it — because we do stand behind it," Kraeling said.

Kraeling said the length of the pandemic has caused some staffing issues for the MMC.

"There's probably some (pandemic) fatigue in that," he said of staffing issues. "It's very difficult right now within these walls and I imagine there's some degree of burnout."

The hospital temporarily has suspended home visits by nurses who do annual wellness visits for preventative care to patients with chronic health conditions. Those nurses temporarily are being assigned to acute care duties within the hospital due to staffing issues, he said.

On Wednesday, Crawford County announced it had suspended its mandated COVID-19 vaccine requirements for workers the Crawford County Care Center, the county-owned nursing home in Saegertown.

About 18 out of 165 of the Care Center's full-time, part-time and per-diem employees either are not planning to be vaccinated or have not requested an exemption, Tonya Moyer, the nursing home's administrator, said Wednesday.

Keith Gushard can be reached at (814) 724-6370 or by email at kgushard@meadvilletribune.com.

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