HELENA — In 24 states – including Montana – Monday, Feb. 14 is the day that a federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers is set to go into effect. Leaders with St. Peter’s Health say they’re “well on our way” to being in compliance.
Federal authorities announced a vaccine mandate last fall for hospitals, clinics and other certified health care facilities that participate in Medicare or Medicaid. After Montana and other states that challenged the rule in court, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed it to stand.
In Montana, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, gave affected facilities until Feb. 14 to show they have a plan for ensuring their staff get vaccinated, and for all employees to receive at least a first dose – unless they have filed a religious or medical exemption. Health care workers would need to be fully vaccinated by March 15.
CMS said they would give facilities some extra time after the Feb. 14 deadline before taking enforcement action, as long as they have 80% of their employees in compliance and a plan to get to 100% within 60 days.
In a statement, St. Peter’s said about 85% of their workforce is already vaccinated against COVID-19.
“We believe it takes everyone working together to care for our community, and as a people first organization, our wish is to keep all our team members employed at St. Peter’s Health,” the statement continued. “We anticipate having very few, if any, voluntary resignations because of the mandate or personnel who are unable to work due to noncompliance. Our employee health team is working diligently with the remaining employees to submit verification of COVID-19 vaccination or medical or religious exemptions in adherence to all legal requirements of the process.”
CMS requires facilities to develop policies for documenting which employees are vaccinated and granting exemptions, but they must be in alignment with federal law.
St. Peter’s leaders said they continue to strongly encourage all employees and community members to get vaccinated.
“We firmly believe the safe, effective COVID-19 vaccines are lifesaving and the best tool to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our community against the virus,” their statement said.
In Montana, state leaders, including Gov. Greg Gianforte, have consistently argued the federal mandate is unlawful and that it would have a negative impact on hospital staffing, particularly in rural areas. Attorney General Austin Knudsen has filed several court challenges seeking to block enforcement of the rule.