Vaccine mandate affects local hospital

November 20, 2021

Robbie Dewberry, CEO of Mitchell County Hospital District, took to YouTube on Thursday afternoon to shed some light on the COVID -19 Vaccine mandate required for employees of MCHD.

According to Dewberry, on November 4, the Centers of Medicare/Medicaid Services (CMS) who overseas and regulates compliance within the Medicare/Medicaid conditions of participation for all hospitals, nursing homes and long term care facilities who bill for Medicare/Medicaid claims, issued updated conditions of participation concerning the mandatory COVID-19 vaccine for hospital employees.

To comply with the mandate, employees must be fully vaccinated by January 5th 2022 or have filed for a medical or religious exemption 14 days prior to the deadline. This puts the hospital at a timeline of Dec. 21.

“I want everyone to understand, this is not Robbie Dewberry’s rule. This is under the direction of President Joe Biden issued through CMS in our Conditions of Participation,” said Dewberry.

As of November 11, the hospitals fully vaccinated rate was estimated to be between 70-72% of employees, leaving around 30 % of the districts employees that have not been vaccinated.

Employees can file for a medical or religious exemption that will be reviewed by the hospitals COVID Task Force. The COVID Task Force was set up in Mitchell County two years ago in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The COVID Task Force members are Chief of Staff Dr. Dee Roach, CEO Robbie Dewberry, CNO Yvette Woody, Infection Control Jennifer Hale, CFO Michelle Gafford, COO Murry Hall, Mitchell County Nursing and Rehab Center Administrator Jessica Whitesides and Pharmacist Lesli Tomlin.

The task force will review and approve or deny exemptions. Follow up questions may be asked for those employees who apply.

“The COVID Task Force is going to do everything they can to approve all those exemptions,” said Dewberry.

Mitchell County Hospital District has been working closely with its attorney Reed Claymon Meeker and Hargett based in Austin to construct a COVID vaccine mandate policy. According to Dewberry, the policy, including the exemption forms, have been sent out to MCHD managers to review with their employees. Employees may file for the medical or religious exemption and return them by Monday, Nov. 22. The COVID Task Force will take no more than a week to review the filed exemptions and get back to MCHD employees with a decision.

According to Dewberry, the hospital is doing its best to educate employees on the vaccine mandate and their options.

The hospital is offering the Moderna vaccine here locally and allowing its employees to get the Johnson and Johnson one dose vaccine in order to be in full compliance.
“I’m going to try to do everything, the way I have done everything in my tenure here in the past 11 years, to make sure every one of our employees has a job throughout this. For two reasons, number one, it’s the right thing to do. Number two, without our staff we can’t provide the healthcare that Mitchell County taxpayers have entrusted us to do,” said Dewberry.

The most commonly asked question is what if the hospital does not comply. The answer, MCHD revenue is somewhere between $27-30 million dollars a year. Medicare and Medicaid funds consist of anywhere from $10-15 million dollars of that revenue for MCHD. If the hospital does not comply with CMS, CMS will start the process of issuing a deficiency. The hospital then has to send a Plan of Correction to CMS. If CMS approves the POC, the hospital still has to initiate compliance with vaccines or exemptions. If CMS does not approve the Plan of Correction, CMS can withhold hospital funding and be subject to fines.
“CMS withholding hospital funding would put the hospital out of business and lose all jobs for Mitchell County Hospital District and that’s not an option for MCHD. So, the hospital has to do everything it can to comply. We are working diligently to do everything possible to comply with Conditions of Participation and maintain the employment for all our employees,” said Dewberry.

MCHD is anticipating a Centers of Medicare/Medicaid Services (CMS) survey sometime after the first of the year 2022.

“The hospital does not know what a CMS surveyor is going to do. It would be up to the surveyor if they ask to review the exemptions. CMS is the only entity that could overturn the COVID Task Force decision. I don’t agree with the mandate, I want to do everything I can to keep everyone of MCHD employees employed, but also the hospital has to comply with the rules. The hospital cannot just pick and choose which rules MCHD complies with, “said Dewberry.

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