Vaccine mandate spurs hospital staffing worries


SUNDANCE — Crook County Medical Services District is starting to see difficulties with staffing on the horizon. CEO Micki Lyons last week shared her concerns over the impending federal vaccine mandate with the board of trustees.

The announcement from President Joe Biden that all healthcare workers will be required to receive a COVID-19 vaccine is, “Causing a lot of stress in our staff,” Lyons said. Many are talking about leaving because they do not want to be vaccinated, which could lead to a situation in which the district must use traveling staff to maintain its staffing levels.

The trouble, said Lyons, is that it’s still not completely clear how the mandate is going to work and when it will come into effect. Though the general idea that was put forth is for everyone who works in a healthcare setting to be vaccinated, the specific details – and even the deadline – are not yet finalized.

In the webinars and trainings that have been provided, Lyons said, you hear about what the President said and other basic information, but, “They never really give you any guidance.”

“There’s so much confusion surrounding it and there’s no ‘this is what’s going to happen and when’,” Lyons said.

It’s a big concern for CCMSD as a small district, commented Trustee Ed Ray, who referred to a statement from Campbell County Health that they anticipate losing up to 100 of their 1100 staff members due to the mandate. CCMSD could not sustain such a rate of loss, he said – and just losing seven staff members would be the same ratio.

“It’s a big concern,” agreed Lyons.

Ray also noted that Campbell County Health has said it does not intend to abide by the mandate. Lyons, however, explained that hospital districts won’t actually have a choice in the matter because it’s tied to vital federal funding.

Some of the larger systems, such as Monument Health and Sanford, have indicated they will be mandating the vaccines, she said. As for Campbell County Health, “It’s going to be out of their control if…the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is going to require that”.

As a federal mandate, explained Board Attorney Kara Ellsbury, the district will be required to follow it unless there is a judicial order to invalidate or temporarily suspend it.

At this time, the message that the board would like to send to its employees, said Chairman Mark Erickson, is that “nothing is defined yet,” so please don’t jump ship until we know more. Lyons confirmed that staff members are aware of this, but warned that people are “starting to get nervous.”

The board noted that Governor Mark Gordon has stated Wyoming will be fighting back against the mandates with a two-pronged plan.

The first step, according to Gordon’s announcement, will be for the Attorney General to prepare for legal action to stop the vaccine mandate for private employers. Though the details are not yet released, he wants Wyoming to be ready to respond “promptly and forcefully.”

“We cannot sit on our hands just watching this egregious example of federal government overreach,” Gordon said. “We are already communicating with other Governors and states to prepare legal options once emergency standards are issued.”

The second step could be a special legislative session devoted to a small number of bills that address overreach with regard to the vaccine mandates.

“Wyoming is a conservative state with a constitution designed to constrain the actions of government, so special sessions are meant to be very rare. They cost taxpayer money, so they should never be frivolous,” Gordon said.

“That is why legislative leadership and I will work together to ensure any potential special session held to respond to vaccine mandates will be focused, effective, and efficient.”

Gordon shared his view that vaccines are an important tool to bring the pandemic under control and are safe and effective.

“Nevertheless, I also understand others may have a different impression of the COVID-19 vaccine. In some cases, they are my neighbors and I respect their views just as I expect them to respect mine,” he said.

“This Biden mandate is counterproductive and will not convince anyone otherwise.”

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