The Regional Medical Center will require all its employees to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or face being put on administrative leave without pay.

The RMC Board of Trustees unanimously voted during a special called meeting Monday to implement the COVID vaccination policy requiring all employees to receive their first vaccine shot by Dec. 6, 2021. The policy will require all employees to receive their second shot by Jan. 4, 2022.

“If they don’t get the first shot by Dec. 6, they go on administrative leave — without pay,” RMC President David Southerland said.

If employees choose not to get vaccinated by the deadline, they will not be able to return to work at the RMC, Southerland said.

“This applies to all hospitals all over the state of South Carolina,” Southerland said. “Every hospital everywhere has the same policy.”

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced in early November that it would be requiring applicable health care facilities (with over 100 employees) to have a policy in place ensuring that eligible staff receive their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine series by Dec. 6 and to have completed the series by Jan. 4, 2022.

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The CMS mandate does not provide employees the choice to conduct weekly testing.

“If it was, we would do that,” Southerland said.

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Failure to comply with the requirement could place an organization’s Medicare funding in jeopardy. RMC receives about 72% of its revenue from the federal government.

The RMC board decision came ahead of a federal court ruling on Tuesday.

Health care workers won’t be federally required for now to get the COVID-19 shot in Ohio and nationwide, U.S. District Court Judge Terry A. Doughty ruled Tuesday.

Southerland said Tuesday evening that RMC attorneys will be looking at the ruling.

Per the board vote, Southerland said RMC employees will be able to seek medical and religious exemptions regarding taking the vaccine.

“The HR Department will review it and either approve it or deny it,” Southerland said.

Southerland said the medical exemption has to be accompanied by a physician’s documentation.

Southerland said there have been about 80 employees file for exemptions, mostly religious-based.

“We are working through those and we are approving all of them,” Southerland said. “Who are we to judge?”

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Southerland said while RMC is generally looking favorably upon the exemption requests, the hospital’s decision could be challenged or questioned by CMS and overturned.

RMC employs about 1,300.

Southerland estimates that about 900 employees have been fully vaccinated as of three weeks ago.

He says the others may have been vaccinated and just have to show the proof of their vaccination card to be “taken off the list.” He expects the numbers of those who are not vaccinated to shrink as a result. $5 for 5 months
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Prior to approving the vaccination policy, trustees voted to go into closed session to receive a presentation from the hospital’s Medical Staff Executive Committee Chairwoman Dr. Vann Beth Shuler on the policy.

The board came back into session within 15 minutes and voted to unanimously accept it.

There was no discussion of the policy in open session among trustees.

The federal vaccine mandate has faced legal challenges and has been blocked from implementation by some courts.

South Carolina has joined nearly two dozen other states in challenging the legality of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ mandate of COVID-19 vaccines for health care workers.

The mandate has also spawned protests by hospital workers across the country and most recently at Lexington Medical Center.

When asked if the hospital was concerned about losing employees as a result of the policy, Southerland said, “yes.”

“That is always the down side,” RMC board Chairman Rev. Dr. Caesar Richburg said.

“I think the biggest issue is that the federal government is telling people what they have to do,” Southerland said, noting that by approving the mandate, the hospital is “complying with the federal government. If we don’t comply and we get audited, then they could cut us off.”

Southerland said RMC has been offering the shots daily over the past few weeks and will continue to do so to enable employees to comply with the mandate.

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