Over the course of the last two years, the American worker has faced a lot of uncertainty. President Biden’s most recent mandate requiring health care workers in Medicare- and Medicaid-funded facilities to get vaccinated has only increased that uncertainty.
According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), 82% of staff in facilities nationwide are vaccinated, but the remaining 18% face termination from their jobs if they do not apply for and are granted a federally recognized health or religious exemption.
“I think it was disheartening to hear many people, including some Supreme Court justices, discussing the fact that they feel health care workers have no right to their own bodily autonomy,” said Jean-Marie Nacer, a registered nurse in Florida who has chosen not to get vaccinated. “The real reason I went into health care was to help people, and this ruling is basically saying if you don’t take this medical intervention, you can’t help people.”
“This mandate was imposed on top of an already-historic workforce crisis,” added Kristen Knapp, spokeswoman for the Florida Healthcare Association, which oversees most of Florida’s nursing homes.
The current shortages plaguing the health care field right now are well-documented. According to Morning Consult, 1 in 5 health care workers have quit their jobs during the pandemic due to low pay and burnout that has been exacerbated by COVID-19, and 1 in 3 workers have considered quitting.
The record-low numbers have forced hospitals and other health care facilities to look for temporary fill-ins from freelance firms that can charge as much as three times the rate of a staff member.
The prospect of losing even more workers due to the president’s mandate could worsen the problem, particularly in states where facility vaccination rates are below 70%, like Montana, Ohio and Missouri. For every infraction where a faculty member is not vaccinated, a health care facility risks losing its Medicare and Medicaid funding.
“It’s a challenge. I’ve been working in long-term care for almost 14 years, and I’ve never seen a workforce shortage or workforce challenges like we’re experiencing right now,” said Knapp.
To help relieve the stress on the system, some nursing homes are limiting admissions of new patients so they can comply with a staff-to-client ratio, but that limits the ability of hospitals to discharge patients in some cases. In other cases, it forces families to search for nursing facilities farther from their home.
To help workers, some states have passed legislation that allows unemployment benefits to be extended to individuals who are fired because they refuse to get vaccinated.
Since vaccination status is considered a controllable circumstance, most states will not offer unemployment to those who are let go because they refuse to get the vaccine, but Kansas, Arkansas, Florida, Tennessee and Iowa have passed legislation extending unemployment to those individuals.
Health care facilities in 25 states are required to comply with the vaccine mandate by Feb. 28. For 24 states, the mandate will not kick in until March 15. The only state exempt from President Biden’s mandate is Texas, where a preliminary injunction prevents such requirements.