Hospitals and nursing homes are advocating that the state relax its requirement that every Colorado healthcare worker be vaccinated against COVID-19, days after the rule is enforced.
But Gov. Jared Polis’s office showed little interest in the request on Tuesday and said the rule still carried the weight of the law.
In late August, the state health board approved an emergency rule requiring a large portion of Colorado’s healthcare workforce to be vaccinated by October 1. , which, according to the facilities, would require them to fire any unvaccinated staff who have not received exemptions.
But last week, at a meeting of the Polis Residential Care Strike Team, the state health department’s division of health facilities and emergency medical services explained the benefits of l lowering of the rule from 100% to 90%, according to a slide show provided to the Gazette. This change would align the mandate of the COVID-19 vaccine with the state’s influenza inoculation requirements for healthcare facilities.
The division “recommends adopting this change”, according to the slideshow, for several reasons, including that the department will need to review fewer exemptions, it can treat medical and religious exemptions uniformly, and create consistency between influenza and COVID – 19 vaccine regulations.
Despite the language used in the slides, a spokesperson for the state health department said it was not accurate to say that a formal recommendation had been made. He described the conversation as âworkshopâ options for officials.
Colorado Hospital Association spokesperson Cara Welch and Doug Farmer, who heads the nursing home business group Colorado Health Care Association, both said they were in favor of reducing the tenure by 100%. at 90%.
âMany hospitals are already well above that 90%,â Welch said, âbut reaching 100% is impossible. That means every hospital has to have an exemption.â¦ Our hospitals want to be in compliance, and they have to be in accordance with this law.
Farmer said last week that up to 20% of the state’s long-term care workforce was still unvaccinated by the end of September, which would put Colorado facilities on a collision course with large-scale disciplinary proceedings or dismissals. He echoed Welch’s characterization of the 100% threshold, calling it “ambitious.”
“We support this, but it is not very likely between the time we announced this regulation (end of August) and the end of October,” he said. “It is not the providers who are resistant to vaccines. It is not the people who operate these facilities who are resistant. It is their employees, and their employees have a choice of where they work.”
Although the Polis residential care strike team heard the concerns last week, Farmer said there had been no communication from them yet. It’s out of the hands of the strike team, anyway: the rule can only be changed by the Board of Health, which won’t meet again until later this month.
Jessica Bralish, spokesperson for the state’s health department, said in an email that the current 100% rule “carries the weight of the law … and facilities that do not want to comply will be subject to enforcement measures “. The agency told The Gazette on Monday it would work with facilities that are not in compliance first. But any “reluctant” entity will face “progressive actions,” including the installation of temporary management companies for license revocation and summary suspensions.
In a statement, Polis’s office described last week’s talks as “an option being discussed by the Residential Care Strike Team, as (the state’s health department) is working through many options to another emergency or permanent rule “.
Polis had openly urged the health council to pass the 100% requirement in August, and his office said on Tuesday it had “not anticipated any immediate changes to the rule, so that facilities and employees at these installations must obey the law in force. “
During the debate, officials quoted in this article said, impending regulations from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which have considerable authority over nursing homes, hospitals and other health facilities. CMS and President Joe Biden previously announced vaccine requirements for healthcare workers nationwide, though exact details of that mandate have yet to be released.
In its statement, the Polis office wrote that “it would be prudent to obtain direction from the federal rule before making any changes” to the state’s mandate. It is not known when these federal directives will come.
Farmer and Welch said the facilities they represent are already in difficult positions. In some communities, Farmer said, vaccination rates are below 50%.
âExpecting that you can get 100% vaccination (in nursing homes) in a month or two is a little unrealistic,â Farmer said. He warned that while there have not yet been widespread layoffs or resignations in the nursing home industry, it would be the inevitable result if the rule is not changed and the thousands of Long-term care staff will not be vaccinated in the coming weeks. .
âIt’s a tough time right now for the hospitals, they’re doing everything they can,â Welch said. âBut just the level of uncertainty with what will happen with the rule of the state, and with the federal mandate, puts them in a very difficult situation. They are working on the ground, one-on-one with their staff to answer questions, provide information, do whatever they can. That’s kind of our focus right now as we wait for all these other details to be finalized. “