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Benefis provides update on the impact of federal COVID vaccine mandate

Benefis Health System's new Women's and Children's Center in Great Falls
Posted at 2:14 PM, Feb 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-16 17:42:42-05

GREAT FALLS — Starting Monday, February 14, 2022, the federal government plans to begin enforcing a COVID vaccination mandate for workers at hospitals and other healthcare facilities - including those in Montana. Healthcare organizations risk losing federal funding from Medicare and Medicaid if they do not comply with the mandate.

On Monday, Benefis Health System in Great Falls released the following statement: “While Benefis experienced some employee departures related to the vaccination requirement, we are continuing to operate as normal and our primary focus remains providing our patients with high quality care.”

On Tuesday, Benefis - which has more than 3,000 employees - provided an update, saying that 37 employees "concluded their employment" due to the CMS vaccination mandate. Here is the data provided by Benefis:

As of February 15th, here are the actual statistics for BHS Employees regarding the CMS mandated Covid vaccination:
  • 4.4% of employees were granted medical or religious exemptions after our established application (and appeal) process at BHS (of those 29% are medical deferral and 71% are religious deferrals).
  • 0.6% of BHS employees (such as remote workers) are exempt from the CMS mandate, by CMS’s rules, and unvaccinated due to that.
  • 94.6% of BHS employees are vaccinated against Covid (at least 1 shot, as required by the CMS mandate – effective date February 14th).
  • 0.4% of BHS employees remain unvaccinated due to still pending deferral applications or who are on leave status.

Federal authorities announced several months ago the vaccine mandate for hospitals, clinics, and other certified healthcare facilities that receive funding from Medicare or Medicaid. Montana was one of a number of states that challenged the rule in court, pointing to potential negative impacts on labor shortages and hospital operations – particularly in rural areas. In January, however, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the mandate to stand.

Last week, Montana governor Greg Gianforte published an open letter to healthcare workers. He said the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision regarding the mandate left legal questions unanswered, and the state would continue to challenge the mandate.

“In the meantime, however, I urge those of you who are unvaccinated to consider using the religious and medical exemption processes that your employers are required to offer, as well as talk to your colleagues or personal health care provider about getting vaccinated,” the letter said.

The Montana Department of Public Health & Human Services has posted guidance related to the vaccine mandate on its website.