Billings hospitals prepare for COVID-19 vaccine manadate

Billings Clinic friday.jpg
Posted at 9:11 AM, Nov 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-20 11:11:02-05

Hospitals have a little more than two weeks to get employees vaccinated under an interim rule from the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services.

At least one Montana healthcare provider has a large number of employees who have not taken the vaccine.

Billings Clinic has about 4,700 employees and two-thirds have received a COVID-19 vaccination.

"We're continuing to make progress every day," said Jonathan McDermott, Billings Clinic chief human resources officer. "And just trying to educate employees help them understand why vaccination is important."

But even here, there's still a long ways to go. Roughly 1,500 workers at Billings Clinic have not received their COVID-19 vaccines with a major December deadline looming.

Healthcare workers here and elsewhere have been told to get the vaccine or risk losing their jobs.

"We did that just last year with the flu and the ultimate number that ended up severing employment with us was five," McDermott said.

Healthcare organizations that receive Medicare or Medicaid risk losing federal funding if all employees aren't fully vaccinated by Jan. 4.

"Over 60% of our patients have Medicare and Medicaid exclusively," he said. "And so if we weren't to service that population, there would be so many people that wouldn't be able to get this health care coverage from us."

Many need to get their first shots in early December.

"Remember our employees are patients too, and talking to them about talking with their provider about what's the best course of action for them," McDermott said. "And just listening.

Billings Clinic isn't alone. Both St. Vincent Health Care and RiverStone health say they're also trying to prepare for what will happen come January, a mandate that could ultimately mean fewer employees at hospitals already dealing with record numbers of COVID patients.