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Penn Highlands Healthcare says about a third of its employees still need to get vaccinated to comply with a federal mandate

Photo of the outside of the Penn Highlands DuBois hospital
Penn Highlands Healthcare
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Penn Highlands Healthcare said the health system fully intends to comply with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

Penn Highlands Healthcare officials said during a press conference call Thursday that the health system fully intends to comply with a federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. CMS is requiring all U.S. healthcare workers at health care facilities that participate in the Medicare and Medicaid programs to get vaccinated by January 4th, 2022.

“At this time, we fully intend to comply with this federal mandate at all seven of our hospitals as well as our outpatient facilities, our physician offices, our home health agencies, our long-term care facilities, all across our 39-county service area,” said Chief Operating Officer Mark Norman.

With two-thirds of the system’s revenue coming from Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements, Norman said it simply must comply.

“It’s important to note if we fail to comply with the CMS mandate, it puts all of our hospitals at risk of closure through the fines and penalties which we will be subjected to,” he said.

This CMS mandate, unlike the one issued by Occupational Safety and Health Standards, does not allow testing as an alternative and would apply to Penn Highlands’ nearly 7,000 employees across seven hospitals.

As of the end of October, two-thirds of those workers had been fully vaccinated, according to system Chief Medical Officer Dr. Russell Cameron. That meant more than 1,900 had not yet gotten the shots.

The mandate also requires those who conduct business with hospitals to show proof of vaccination upon entry into a facility. Norman said about 300 companies work with Penn Highlands, and the health system is setting up a verification process to meet that requirement.

“Our reasons for complying with the federal mandate go beyond avoiding the fines, penalties and potential closure of our hospitals,” Norman said. “If Penn Highlands does not comply with this mandate, our communities stand to lose access to high quality healthcare because our health system would lose 66% of our net revenue and a lot of people would lose jobs. This would cripple the economy of the communities that serve.”

Twenty-two states have challenged the CMS mandate in federal court. A Penn Highlands spokesperson said the health system will continue to follow the mandate unless it’s repealed or modified.

Penn Highlands employees can seek medical or religious exemptions. If they do not comply by January 4, they will be given 45 days of unpaid leave. After that, they face termination.

A protest against the vaccine mandate has been planned for Friday at the Penn Highlands DuBois hospital.

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