While legal challenges to the federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate continue to work their way through court systems across the nation, no reprieve currently exists for the healthcare industry, as the federal government holds Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements hostage for compliance by Jan. 4, based on an “Emergency Regulation Requiring COVID-19 Vaccination for Healthcare Workers” issued by the Biden-Harris administration.

“I’m not in favor of the vaccine mandate and I have made that clear to our staff from the beginning,” Peterson Health President/CEO Cory Edmondson said Monday. “But, based on President Biden’s Emergency Regulation, we must meet compliance deadlines or be cited for noncompliance. Financial penalties may include civil money penalties, denial of payment for new admissions, or termination of the Medicare/Medicaid provider agreement.”

Currently, Edmondson said, 60 percent of Peterson Health revenue is generated through Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

“The loss of that amount of revenue would not only affect our staff, but directly and negatively impact the quality of healthcare in Kerr County and we can’t let that happen,” Edmondson said. “No one is more frustrated than I am about this. For two years now, we have managed COVID-19 like champions and never let it manage us. This is the first time that we have not been in control of our own destiny during this pandemic.”

In fact, for months now, Edmondson has been sending internal memos to staff reassuring them that Peterson Health will not mandate COVID-19 vaccines for employees, but also explained that the time might come where the federal government might force their hand.

That time has come.

Last week, Edmondson sent a memo addressed to “‘Everyone’ Associated with Peterson Health,” detailing the steps that each staff member must take to protect their jobs under President Biden’s order.

Healthcare workers do have the ability to receive an exemption from the mandate, based on medical or religious reasons, Edmondson said.

“Medical exemptions must be completed by a licensed, applicable medical provider and be based on specific items,” Edmondson said. “Religious accommodation requests must include how the vaccine requirement conflicts with your sincerely held religious belief.”

Of the 1,050 individual staff members, Edmondson said roughly 28 percent have not been vaccinated and Peterson Health leadership immediately began working with those individuals to assist in any way necessary.

“We’ve had several requests for medical or religious exemptions and all of them, so far, have been approved,” Edmondson said. “We have also had several of our staff get their first dose of the vaccine, but we have a few that have done neither.”

Edmondson said all exemption requests must be received by Dec. 6.

“I truly had hoped there would be a resolution by now and was trying to protect our staff, but we are now out of time,” Edmondson said. “It infuriates me to think our wonderful staff has been elbow-deep in COVID-19 for two years, utilizing our safety protocols to protect themselves and our patients, but are now being forced make a choice between their jobs or comply with the vaccine mandate. It’s gut-wrenching.”

The timing couldn’t be worse for Peterson Health either, as the pandemic has taken an emotional and physical toll on healthcare workers who have decided to leave the profession, resulting in staffing shortages.

“As of Jan. 4, anyone not vaccinated or exempted will not be eligible for employment at Peterson Health or any other CMS partner healthcare facility,” Edmondson said. “We are doing everything we can to work with and accommodate our staff to the extent that we can, but I suspect that we will lose members of our Peterson Health family to this mandate. Right now we are working with each of them and helping them navigate the process.”

Edmondson referred to Peterson Health staff as heroes who deserve praise and appreciation and while he cannot control the current situation, has hope that new legal challenges will provide relief.

“The OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) law suit, unfortunately, does not apply to us, however, there have been challenges filed just this week to the CMS requirements and we will all have to wait and see how that plays out,” Edmondson said. “For now, Peterson Health staff will continue to provide exceptional, compassionate, patient-centered care to each and every member of our community.”

(1) comment

gene shelton

After reading two letters in todays Kerrville Daily Times with the requisite name calling from the right, I can see why he said this. I do find it hard to believe that a person trained in health care would not insist that all his staff be vaccinated though.

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