From Publisher Desk

On Monday, Memorial Hospital of Converse County CEO Matt Dammeyer released the latest, but surely not the last, Covid-19 vaccination policy for their staff. The hospital policies, originally driven by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ rules for anyone accepting federal payments, remain warranted even as the state of Wyoming and nine other states battle it out with CMS in the courts.

Despite Wyoming claiming temporary victory with an injunction stopping CMS from implementing its rules with a Dec. 5 deadline, the reality is the court battle is far from over and, as Dammeyer has correctly pointed out, CMS is likely to win in the long run anyway. CMS controls the purse strings for hospitals, but the larger issue facing rural health care is more than just money – and money is a big one – but is how many of our citizens rely on Medicare and Medicaid for their health care. If our hospital chooses to ignore CMS on vaccination requirements for employees, as some have suggested, nearly half of our population would lose their access to local health care or have to pay for those services out of their own pocket.

The latest policy revision is a good compromise. It balances incentives to get vaccinated against the heavy hammer of government-mandated “get a shot or lose your job.” The hospital has a duty to keep its patients safe, and that means assuring those wanting safe access to health care that their publicly owned hospital is as free from Covid-19 exposure as possible.

Vaccines do that.

You doubt it? The reality is that, from July to October, 87% of the patients admitted to MHCC with Covid were unvaccinated. “The overwhelming majority of these patients were admitted due to severe Covid-19 symptoms,” the MHCC policy states.

And on Tuesday morning, Converse County Emergency Management Agency noted we had two more deaths (the 44th and 45th) tied to Covid exposure in this county. Here’s some more scary data for our county, as well. The 2021 Covid cases in June, July, August, September and October were significantly higher than a year ago, to the tune of 70% to nearly 300% higher.

Simply put, our hospital is dealing with more and more Covid cases, and looking at hospital admission numbers for the last few months (along with record hospital revenues and costs) shows the impact on staff. Hospital employees should not be contributing to the spread, nor should the rest of us.

Luckily, the new MHCC policy continues to stress the need for employees, especially those who work with patients face-to-face, to be vaccinated. That hasn’t changed, nor should it, but the policy also recognizes those employees who work at home or in offices away from patients, such as medical billing, are less of an immediate issue and attempts to balance the immediate need for safety with real life.

Monday’s deadline from CMS came and went, and the new policy doesn’t go into effect Jan. 1. So another deadline awaits. But hopefully by offering a financial incentive and more encouragement to get vaccinated, this version will push the hospital’s overall vaccination percentage to go up. As of Dec. 7, it languished at 55% of the staff – which is far above the ridiculously low rate (31.08%) for Converse County as whole, but is still isn’t close to the 95% demanded by the federal government for health care facilities.

The newest version is a good compromise. Let’s hope it has the desired result.

––Matt Adelman

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