Officials at major medical facilities in Greenville say they will comply with new federal regulations issued this week that require hospital employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Hospital officials at Prisma Health and at Bon Secours St. Francis Health System in Greenville said they will abide by the federal rules.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced the requirements late Thursday, saying they were issued in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said existing emergency regulations requiring vaccinations for nursing home workers will be expanded to include hospitals, dialysis facilities, ambulatory surgical settings, and home health agencies. Meeting the vaccination requirement is a condition for hospitals and other health care settings to participate in Medicare and Medicaid programs.
The decision was based on the continued and growing spread of the virus in health care settings, especially in parts of the U.S. with higher incidence of COVID-19, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
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“There is no higher priority for us than patient health and safety,” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a prepared statement. “As the delta variant strengthens, the Biden-Harris Administration is committed to doing everything we can to keep patients, and those who care for them, safe. There is no question that staff, across any health care setting, who remain unvaccinated pose both direct and indirect threats to patient safety and population health. Ensuring safety and access to all patients, regardless of their entry point into the health care system, is essential.”
In an interview Thursday before the federal requirements were issued, Dr. Wendell James, Prisma Health’s chief clinical officer in the Upstate, said the hospital system would comply with any federal regulations issued.
“Any guidelines like that that are issued by CMS or the federal government to us, we will follow,” he said.
Bon Secours issued a statement about the federal requirements Friday morning.
“Bon Secours is committed to the health and well-being of our patients, associates and communities,” the hospital system said in a prepared statement. “We will continue to make decisions based on the needs of the communities we serve, in compliance with any local, state and federal requirements. Now and always, our associates’ health and safety are our top priority as they care for our communities.”
Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System was initially less committal than its neighbors in Greenville.
“Like other businesses and healthcare institutions across the country, Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System is still determining the impact of President Biden’s executive order,” the hospital system said in a prepared statement issued by email Friday afternoon.
Later Friday, the Spartanburg hospital system changed its stance and said it would comply with any federal regulations requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for health care workers.
As of Thursday, the system estimated 59% of its more than 9,000 employees had been vaccinated. That number is unchanged since the hospital last released vaccination information on Aug. 25.
On Thursday, President Biden unveiled a sweeping six-part plan to fight COVID outbreaks that ordered all federal employees and employees of government contractors must be vaccinated.
Gov. Henry McMaster responded to the federal requirements via a post on Twitter, saying that “The American Dream has turned into a nightmare under President Biden.”
“They have declared war against capitalism, thumbed their noses at the Constitution, and empowered our enemies abroad,” McMaster said. “Rest assured, we will fight them to the gates of hell to protect the liberty and livelihood of every South Carolinian.”
Nursing homes have had emergency vaccination requirements in place for months before the latest vaccination rules were issued for hospitals. Data shows that nursing homes with an overall staff vaccination rate of 75% or lower experience higher rates of preventable COVID-19 infection, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
“We know that those working in health care want to do what is best for their patients in order to keep them safe,” Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, the agency’s administrator, said in a prepared statement. “As the delta variant continues to spread, we know the best defense against it lies with the COVID-19 vaccine. Data show that the higher the level of vaccination rates among providers and staff, the lower the infection rate is among patients who are dependent upon them for care. Now is the time to act. I’m urging everyone, but especially those fighting this virus on the front lines, to get vaccinated and protect themselves, their families, and their patients from COVID-19.”
The federal agency said that it “expects certified Medicare and Medicaid facilities to act in the best interest of patients and staff by complying with new COVID-19 vaccination requirements.”
It is not immediately clear exactly when the federal vaccination requirements for hospital workers will take effect, but the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said it is developing an “interim final rule with comment period” that will be issued sometime in October.
“Health care workers employed in these facilities who are not currently vaccinated are urged to begin the process immediately, ” the agency said in a statement. “Facilities are urged to use all available resources to support employee vaccinations, including employee education and clinics, as they work to meet new federal requirements.”
Nikie Mayo is an investigative reporter for The Greenville News. Reach her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @NikieMayo.
Spartanburg Herald-Journal reporter Bob Montgomery contributed to this report.