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Montana hospitals react to federal vaccine mandate

Benefis Health System hospital in Great Falls
Posted at 5:52 PM, Feb 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-15 16:10:37-05

GREAT FALLS — Starting Monday, February 14, 2022, the federal government plans to beging enforcing a COVID vaccination mandate for workers at hospitals and other healthcare facilities - including those in Montana.

On Monday, Benefis released the following statement: “While Benefis experienced some employee departures related to the vaccination requirement, we are continuing to operate as normal and our primary focus remains providing our patients with high quality care.”

On Tuesday, Benefis provided an update, saying that 37 employees "concluded their employment" due to the CMS vaccination mandate. Here is the data provided by Benefis:

As of February 15th, here are the actual statistics for BHS Employees regarding the CMS mandated Covid vaccination:
  • 4.4% of employees were granted medical or religious exemptions after our established application (and appeal) process at BHS (of those 29% are medical deferral and 71% are religious deferrals).
  • 0.6% of BHS employees (such as remote workers) are exempt from the CMS mandate, by CMS’s rules, and unvaccinated due to that.
  • 94.6% of BHS employees are vaccinated against Covid (at least 1 shot, as required by the CMS mandate – effective date February 14th).
  • 0.4% of BHS employees remain unvaccinated due to still pending deferral applications or who are on leave status.

In Helena, St. Peter’s Health said about 85% of their workforce is already vaccinated against COVID. St. Peter’s officials said they continue to strongly encourage all employees and community members to get vaccinated.

“We firmly believe the safe, effective COVID-19 vaccines are lifesaving and the best tool to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our community against the virus,” St. Peter's said in a news release.

“We believe it takes everyone working together to care for our community, and as a people first organization, our wish is to keep all our team members employed at St. Peter’s Health,” the release continued. “We anticipate having very few, if any, voluntary resignations because of the mandate or personnel who are unable to work due to noncompliance. Our employee health team is working diligently with the remaining employees to submit verification of COVID-19 vaccination or medical or religious exemptions in adherence to all legal requirements of the process.”

Healthcare organizations risk losing federal funding from Medicare and Medicaid if they do not comply with the mandate.

Federal authorities announced several months ago the vaccine mandate for hospitals, clinics, and other certified healthcare facilities that receive funding from Medicare or Medicaid. Montana was one of a number of states that challenged the rule in court, pointing to potential negative impacts on labor shortages and hospital operations – particularly in rural areas. In January, however, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the mandate to stand.

Last week, Montana governor Greg Gianforte published an open letter to healthcare workers. He said the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision regarding the mandate left legal questions unanswered, and the state would continue to challenge the mandate.

“In the meantime, however, I urge those of you who are unvaccinated to consider using the religious and medical exemption processes that your employers are required to offer, as well as talk to your colleagues or personal health care provider about getting vaccinated,” the letter said.

The Montana Department of Public Health & Human Services has posted guidance related to the vaccine mandate on its website.