The deadline for the COVID vaccination for health care workers in New Jersey is December 6th
Vaccination regulations imposed by some of New Jersey’s largest health systems, including Hackensack Meridian Health, RWJBarnabas Health and Virtua Health, have used the risk of job loss to induce tens of thousands of employees to vaccinate against COVID-19.
Now the federal government has imposed a deadline obliging almost all medical facilities across the country to enact the same requirement, removing the testing option that some staff have allowed for a vaccination refusal.
The new federal rule is expected to attract thousands more in New Jersey – and potentially tens of thousands of health workers across the country – to receive the shots.
An estimated 8,900 long-term care workers in New Jersey remain unvaccinated, as do an unknown number of home health officials, dialysis centers, and inpatient health facilities. It also affects around 2,300 Atlantic Health System employees and several hundred in other hospitals that have approved frequent COVID tests as vaccination alternatives.
The federal deadline for those who work in these facilities and have held out until now is December 6th to receive their first dose of a Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, or the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
The emergency rule, announced by the federal centers for Medicare and Medicaid services on November 4, requires all healthcare facilities funded by Medicare or Medicaid to exempt vaccines for medical or religious reasons only. All others need to be vaccinated.
The agency “considered requiring daily or weekly tests from unvaccinated people, [but] scientific evidence of testing showed that vaccinations are a more effective way to control infection, ”the agency said.
The rule was announced without the usual long public comment period because “the prevalence of COVID-19, particularly the Delta variant, in the healthcare sector increases the risk that unvaccinated personnel will become infected with the virus and spread the virus to patients,” the said Agency . When illness results in staff absenteeism, the burden on the health system can limit patient access to care.
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At Atlantic Health System, 87% of the 18,000 employees are vaccinated.
“Starting December 5, all team members must receive the first vaccine doses in a series of two or one dose Johnson & Johnson,” said Luke Margolies, a spokesman for the system, to which Morristown, Overlook, Newton, Chilton and Hackettstown Medical Centers as well numerous outpatient facilities. “The second cans of the two-can series must be completed by January 4th.”
At the Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, around 150 of 4,500 employees had chosen to have regular tests instead of vaccinations. “There will be no more possibility to do a test instead of a full vaccination,” said a spokeswoman. “Holy Name plans to fully comply with the federal mandate”.
The requirement applies to all employees, attending physicians, providers, students, volunteers and contractors, regardless of whether an employee has direct patient contact, said Jeanette Hoffman, spokeswoman for Holy Name.
At St. Joseph’s Health, 62 employees who have not been vaccinated or have received a waiver will be the focus of efforts to answer questions and dispel doubts about the vaccines, said Pam Garretson, a spokeswoman. With hospitals in Paterson and Wayne, plus a long-term care facility and numerous outpatient locations, the system will meet federal mandates, she said.
Currently, 98% of St. Joseph’s 6,000 employees are vaccinated and 155 have exceptions, she said.
In New Jersey nursing homes and assisted living facilities, 83.7% of employees were vaccinated as of Friday – significantly higher than the statewide rate of 71% and a steady increase of 70.5% in mid-July. While the federal mandate does not apply to assisted living, it affects nursing homes.
“We’d expect that percentage to tick up as the deadline approaches,” said Andrew Aronson, CEO of the Health Care Association of New Jersey, the long-term care industry trading group. But “there will be a handful who choose not to get vaccinated.”
For employers already struggling with labor shortages, any loss of staff due to vaccination will exacerbate a difficult situation. Nursing homes are already turning away patients because they lack the staff to care for them, said Aronson. “If there aren’t enough staff to take care of the people, then in the end the people will not be taken care of,” he said.
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The medical facilities that will be affected by the new requirement include not only hospitals and nursing homes, but also health authorities, hospices, outpatient operation centers, communal health and psychiatric centers, dialysis facilities, psychiatric dormitories and outpatient rehabilitation centers. Medical offices that are not regulated by Medicare do not need to adhere to it.
Nationwide, the regulation applies to 17 million healthcare workers in 76,000 facilities.
Although New Jersey employers are taking steps to meet the requirements, attorneys general in 10 other states have sued in federal courts to prevent the ordinance from going into effect. Led by Missouri and Nebraska, the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Missouri includes Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.
They argue that the rule is unconstitutional, too broad, and a violation of personal freedom, and they also say that it affects more rural states, where labor shortages are more acute.
Meanwhile, Hackensack Meridian Health, as the newest health system in New Jersey, hit a self-imposed vaccination deadline on Monday, announcing that 99.8% of its 36,000 employees across the state have been vaccinated. In the months since the request was announced in the health system of the 17 hospitals, more than 10,000 of its employees have accepted the syringes.
Hackensack Meridian did not disclose how many employees had lost their jobs due to non-compliance. The system’s human resources department “called 800 team members to remind them that they had not been vaccinated and would be separated from organizations if they did not comply” before the October 1st deadline for vaccinations or one Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Ended, reads an article by Robert C. Garrett, the CEO, titled “Lessons on a Successful COVID-19 Mandate.”
A small number of employees – 0.2%, or about 72 – appear to have received exceptions “based on medical, religious, or strong beliefs”. Those decisions were made by a panel of bioethics experts that reviewed each case, Garrett wrote.
And across the state, health vaccination regulations have been overwhelmingly effective.
A month ago, after the October 15 deadline, RWJBarnabas Health laid off 118 employees, less than 1% of its 35,000 employees in 15 hospitals, 33 outpatient centers and dozen other facilities. And 120 Virtua Health employees “chose to quit at the five hospitals in South Jersey and other centers of that system,” said the system’s president – about 1% of the workforce.
Lindy Washburn is a Senior Health Care Reporter for NorthJersey.com. To stay up to date on how healthcare changes are affecting you and your family, subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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