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Orangeburg hospital, others working to meet vaccine mandate

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Published: Jan. 20, 2022 at 1:36 PM EST
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ORANGEBURG, S.C. - With the Supreme Court ruling last week to uphold a federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers, hospitals across the two-state region are working to implement the policy.

South Carolina and Georgia are among 24 states affected by the court’s Jan. 13 decision upholding the mandate for health care workers in facilities participating in Medicare and Medicaid.

Employees must get one dose by Feb. 14 and be fully vaccinated by March 15. There are religious and medical exemptions to the requirement.

The mandate affects more than 10 million health care workers at 76,000 facilities nationwide.

David Southerland, president and CEO of Regional Medical Center in Orangeburg, said the hospital is bracing for some resistance to the mandate.

“There’s probably going to be some that are going to oppose the mandate,” he said. “And if that happens and they don’t get the vaccines to meet those vaccine dates, then they will not be able to work. They’ll just have to be put on administrative leave until they get those mandates accomplished.”

Southerland said that as of Jan. 19, Regional Medical Center has at least 80 staff out sick with the virus.

If there are employees who oppose the mandate, he said this could add to the already significant staffing issues putting a strain on health care workers.

“It’s going to be really challenging if we have people that don’t comply with the mandate,” Southerland said. “If you work in a hospital pretty much anywhere in the state, if you can’t work here, then you can’t go anywhere else and work if you’re not going to be in compliance with the vaccine mandate requirement so I think it ties a lot of employees’ hands unless they can find a special situation where they can work in a clinic with less than 100 employees.”

The South Carolina Hospital Association shares this concern.

In a statement, it said in part, “SCHA has consistently urged all South Carolina healthcare workers to be vaccinated and supports hospitals and health systems that require them for their workforce to better protect them, their patients and the communities they serve. We also recognize that a vaccine requirement has the potential to create additional staffing issues at a time when our workforce is already exhausted by the many demands of COVID-19.”

The association added that since the Supreme Court has ruled, it will work with the state’s hospital and health systems to comply in a way that “retains a sufficient workforce to meet the needs of the people of South Carolina.”

According to Regional Medical Center officials, 70 percent of their workforce has been vaccinated.

Southerland believes that getting more Regional Medical Center employees vaccinated could help control omicron’s spread at the facility.

“This definitely could help limit the spread, not only in the hospital but also in the community,” he said. “And so one of the things we’ve done here in the hospital is we’ve restricted visitation. So we don’t allow any visitors to come into the hospital except for special situations. If someone needs assistance or if they’re a pediatric patient, then we’ll let a parent come in. Or a spouse comes in if we have a mother that’s delivering a baby. But other than that we’re restricting visitation. And that’s also trying to help limit the control of the virus.”

From reports by WIS and WRDW/WAGT