Augusta hospitals react to federal mandates on COVID-19 vaccine

Published: Sep. 13, 2021 at 7:03 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - We’re hearing from our local hospitals about President Biden’s plan to require the COVID vaccine for millions of the nation’s healthcare workers.

Just last week the president signed two executive orders. One requires all employers with 100 or more employees to ensure everyone is fully vaccinated or require unvaccinated workers to get tested at least once a week. The second requires employees in healthcare facilities to be vaccinated in order to receive Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement.

We spoke to three of our local hospitals today and all of them are still waiting for more guidance before implementing the mandate. But one chief medical officer says he’s worried this mandate might do more harm than good.

Pretty soon more workers will face a choice. Get the shot or risk your job.

“We’re always concerned about what they’re thinking what they’re feeling which is one of the reasons I’m not a huge fan of mandates because I am concerned about how the staff perceives that,” said Dr. Phillip Coule, Chief Medical Officer, AU Health.

Right now only the Charlie Norwood VA has a staff vaccine requirement. But after President Biden’s announcement Doctors, AU, and University will be joining them.

“Certainly the science supports vaccination, but we don’t yet know how this is going to impact us in terms of what the rules will be or how it’ll be enforced,” he said.

The president’s vaccine employment requirements include all hospitals that accept Medicare and Medicaid. But Coule’s fear is that a mandate might make things worse.

“My concern is that it could increase vaccine hesitancy and kind of create a situation where we get into a battle over the politics of the pandemic and have COVID-19 vaccinations, rather than the science of it,” he said.

Currently, about 62 percent of all AU Health staff including the Children’s Hospital staff is fully vaccinated. But around 96 percent of AU Health physicians, residents and advanced practice practitioners are fully vaccinated. Over at University Hospital around 55 percent of their staff is vaccinated.

“I don’t know if we’ll take a similar approach here it’s too early to know” he said.

But losing staff because of a vaccine requirement is one big concern.

“It’s going to be the situation everywhere right and so I do remain concerned” he said.

AU does require flu shots for staff and they offer religious and medical exemptions. University Hospital does not require flu shots but they say they’re already developing a plan for widespread COVID vaccination while they wait on more guidance.

Doctor’s Hospital said in a statement: “We will review the details of President Biden’s plan and respond accordingly, just as we have in states that have mandated vaccination. HCA Healthcare helps to ensure a safe environment by following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and our infectious disease experts have been strongly encouraging vaccination as a critical step to protect individuals from the virus. Additionally, our hospitals follow guidance outlined by the CDC regarding protocols for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals in our facilities, including universal masking for all colleagues, patients and visitors.”

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