Covenant Health pauses enforcement of vaccine mandate

Published 7:39 pm Wednesday, December 1, 2021

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Area healthcare workers will be given a bit more time before possibly facing another deadline to get fully vaccinated against COVID-19. A federal judge has granted a preliminary injunction effectively blocking the mandate that came down from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

Virtually all area hospitals were working under the assumption that their employees would need to receive the full round of vaccinations or potentially lose the ability to care for patients who financially rely on CMS for their health needs.

Covenant Health, which oversees the Claiborne Medical Center, issued a statement late last week updating the public on just what the federal injunction means to their facilities.

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According to the statement, more than 55 percent of its patients rely on the Medicare/Medicaid Service for any healthcare they receive.

“…in order to continue caring for our communities, we were required to comply with the federal mandate by Jan. 4,” reads the statement, which goes on to say that the temporary injunction has paused any enforcement Covenant Health might have had in requiring compliance of the federal mandate.

“Our employee and medical staff compliance with the previous mandate is currently 90 percent. We continue to strongly urge all employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccination, and are currently offering vaccinations to employees who have not yet received them,” continues the statement.

Several Knoxville area hospital groups have placed on hold the requirement that all employees be vaccinated against COVID-19. Tennova Healthcare, East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, the University of Tennessee Medical Center and Blount Memorial Hospital have issued their own statements lifting the requirement until further notice.

Children’s Hospital released its own statement as well.

“Children’s Hospital will continue to encourage COVID-19 vaccination for all employees, but no one will be suspended from employment as a result of the CMS requirement at this time. The leadership team at Children’s Hospital will continue to monitor federal court decisions with the understanding that further legal review could reverse this decision at any time.”

Prior to the injunction, more than 17 million workers nationwide were facing mandated vaccinations. That means some 76,000 healthcare facilities and home health care providers receiving government funded health programs were under the gun to get their employees fully vaccinated just days into the new year.

Facilities under the Covenant Health Systems umbrella include Claiborne Medical Center, Cumberland Medical Center, Fort Loudoun Medical Center, Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center, LeConte Medical Center, Methodist Medical Center of Oak Ridge, Morristown-Hamblen Healthcare System, Parkwest Medical Center and the Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center.