QUINCY — Blessing Health System employees learned Tuesday they now have an additional option to maintain their employment after a federal judge in Missouri blocked enforcement of the Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for millions of health care workers in 10 states.
About 17 million health care providers at facilities participating in the federal Medicare and Medicaid health insurance programs must be vaccinated — with no option to choose weekly testing instead — by Jan. 4, 2022. The rule is being implemented by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
However, Monday’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Matthew Schelp affects the states involved in a lawsuit, including Missouri and Iowa. The others are Kansas, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Arkansas, Wyoming and Alaska. The 10 states claim the federal government has overreached its authority to dictate what happens in their states.
Lawsuits from other states are pending in federal courts, challenging the mandate on health care workers, as well as a broader mandate on most private sector employees.
A letter was sent to employees on Tuesday explaining that Blessing Health System has been implementing the CMS Omnibus COVID-19 Health Care Staff Vaccination Interim Final Rule since Nov. 5.
The rule requires people who work in Blessing’s health care facilities, except those who work remotely or at most divisions of Denman Services, Inc., to receive either one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine or the first dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine by Monday, Dec. 6. Those who receive the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine must receive the second dose by Jan. 4.
The rule did not allow for a COVID-19 rapid or PCR testing option for employees who choose not to vaccinate.
“In light of (Schelp’s ruling), we have re-examined our approach as a health system with locations in Missouri, Iowa and Illinois,” the letter read. “We are now offering an additional option for an accommodation, which will consist of wearing an N95 mask at all times and continued weekly COVID-19 testing.”
The letter explained that for an employee to qualify for an accommodation, he or she must file and be approved for a medical or religious exemption. Paperwork must be submitted by Dec. 13.
All unvaccinated employees and/or employees awaiting a decision on their exemption request, must wear an N95 mask and be tested weekly effective Dec. 6.
Maureen Kahn, president and CEO of Blessing Health Systems, told Muddy River News earlier this month that Blessing has approximately 3,500 full- and part-time employees, and she believes about 60 percent of them are vaccinated.
Blessing Health System consists of two provider groups, three hospitals, a college of nursing, a network of medical specialty businesses and a charitable foundation.
Quincy Medical Group was asked for comment. Erica Douglas, a communications specialist with QMG, wrote in an email, “At this time, we are not doing any interviews or providing comment regarding the federal vaccine mandates.”